Archive:
Digital

Designers, it’s time to move slowly and fix things

Another reflection on how the culture of tech and design probably needs to change, this time from Basecamp product designer Jonas Downey.

Designers and programmers are great at inventing software… Unfortunately we’re not nearly as obsessed with what happens after that, when people integrate our products into the real world. They use our stuff and it takes on a life of its own. Then we move on to making the next thing. We’re builders, not sociologists.

The most popular strategies companies use to save money also kill innovation

An interesting take on business process improvements such as Lean and Six Sigma. It suggests that while such process improvements improve reliability, they also make innovation plummet. Moreover, the effects are difficult to spot because they take so long to emerge.

Innovation requires different ways of doing things, and this is exactly what this system ends. But they don’t tell you that in the ISO9000 handbook, do they?

Wealth inequality is even worse in reputation economies

Cory Doctorow on how reputation economies (like the rating system satirised in the Black Mirror episode Nosedive) have a series of undesirable effects.

…reputation is useless as a hedge against the real nightmare of a setup like Ebay: the long con. It doesn’t cost much, nor does it take much work, to build up sleeper identities on Ebay, fake storefronts that sell un­remarkable goods at reasonable prices, earning A+++ GREAT SELLER tickmarks, even for years, until one day, that account lists a bunch of high-value items on the service, pockets the buyers’ funds, and walks off.

Reputation works badly and fails badly – it’s a lose-lose situation all around.

When alumni interviewers screw up, things get weird

The perils of using alumni to reach out to prospective students.

This article mainly pertains to examples found in the US. I am not sure how common this technique is in the UK.

There is a tricky balance to be struck between two of universities’ main sources of income. On the one hand there is the need to keep alumni engaged, which is thought to make them more likely to donate. But if it turns off students — particularly the right kind of students — the long-term risks could be greater.

Although highly selective colleges have become racially and socioeconomically diverse, alumni interviewers tend to be white and affluent. That can lead to awkward moments, said Ari Worthman, director of college counseling at Lakeside School, in Seattle. He recalled a low-income student who sat down with the graduate of a big-name college a couple of years ago. I’m so glad you’re looking at our school, the applicant was told, because we don’t normally interview students like you.

Making good decisions as a product manager

While this article was originally aimed at product managers, the author concedes that it is relevant to any role.

Essentially, it argues that the key to good decision-making is not just understanding what the correct decision would be, but also how quickly you should make each decision. In other words, you need to know which decisions to agonise over, and which to make quickly.

You can be right 99% of the time, but if you’re wrong the 1% of times when it really matters, you’re not an effective decision maker. The takeaway is that when the stakes are high, you should work a lot harder at making the right decision.

Ashamed to work in Silicon Valley: how techies became the new bankers

It definitely feels like there has been a sea-change in people’s perceptions about Silicon Valley in the past year or so. This article goes some way to explaining why.

MBA jerks used to go and work for Wall Street, now wealthy white geeks go to Stanford and then waltz into a VC or tech firm…

The focus of Silicon Valley used to be innovation with the wonderful bonus of money on the side of that, but those two things seem to have switched – just as the pencil-pushing mentality of finance in the 70s became the champagne lifestyle in the 2000s.

Hooked and booked

Following on from an article I linked to a few weeks ago about the dark patterns used by Booking.com to pressurise its users into making decisions, Jeremy Keith follows up with this reflection on why A/B testing used badly makes things worse.

A/B testing is a great way of finding out what happens when you introduce a change. But it can’t tell you why.

Part of this is also about a narrow focus on the wrong metrics. If a business decides it simply wants to increase the percentage of people hitting a partiuclar call to action on a webpage, this is the path they will end up on.

If, however, they can find a more sophisticated way to measure long-term customer satisfaction, surely users will feel less stressed, and the business will improve more in the long run.

RSS: there’s nothing better

This article summarises why social media services like Facebook and Twitter are a totally inadequate way of receiving updates from blogs and other websites. We had the perfect system all along: RSS.

Yes, the technology is dated, but it remains the best at what it does and isn’t closed source or tied to some Silicon Valley company. It still works, is widely supported and does what it does better than any alternative that’s come out since. Sometimes, newer isn’t better. Sometimes the problem has already been solved. No blog or news website should be too new or too minimal to support RSS.

The improbable origins of PowerPoint

A history of PowerPoint, a piece of software that has taken over office life more than any other.

Many of us rely on it. But on the downside, PowerPoint persuades pencil pushers that they are designers. The result is that highly-paid people end up spending hours on end mucking about with fonts.

Faux grid tracks

Now that we have CSS grid, people apparently want to know how to style the divisions between the rows and the columns. Here, Eric Meyer explains one way to do it.

At this stage, I can’t help feeling that no matter how many features get added to CSS, it always results in more gnarly hacks.

Your strategy should be a hypothesis you constantly adjust

Why do strategies often “break down in the execution stage”? According to this study, it is often because big companies fail to learn from new information.

Staff on the ground will often fail to raise the alarm for fear of being blamed for failing to execute the strategy correctly. But often, the flaw was in the plan itself.

The Volkswagen diesel emissions case is one stark example:

VW’s culture — specifically, its executives’ lack of tolerance for pushback from people lower in the organization — seems to have played a major role in its diesel-emissions fiasco… VW leaders lost out on the opportunity to revisit and update the strategy. Meanwhile, engineers had developed software to fool the regulators — postponing the inevitable.

This article suggests taking a ‘strategy-as-learning’ perspective instead. It’s an approach that reminds me a lot of Lean UX methods.

The web began dying in 2014, here’s how – André Staltz

Highly interesting article about how the dominance of Facebook, Google and Amazon is beginning to damage the web. Facebook and Google are silently conspiring to specialise in social and knowledge respectively, further increasing their dominance. Meanwhile, the weakening of net neutrality threatens to move to goalposts even further in their favour.

Many of the podcasts I listen to are currently running ads from Bose imploring me to buy their headphones “to enjoy podcasts in even better sound quality”.

I have to say, when listening to a heavily compressed MP3 that has usually been recorded in a spare room by a semi-professional using budget domestic microphones, with their friend connected via a shaky Skype connection, while I am walking along a busy city street or riding a noisy bus… sound quality isn’t my top priority.

Installing progressive web apps — Jeremy Keith, Adactio

In this post about a Google Chrome mobile user interface change, another telling comment that explains part of the reason why the web appears to be in trouble.

The way we’ve turned browsing the web—especially on mobile—into a frustrating chore of dismissing unwanted overlays is a classic tragedy of the commons. We blew it.

Something is wrong on the internet – James Bridle, Medium

This article uses kids’ video content as an example, but really it is about how we all consume all types of content. The same effects that are causing these weird YouTube videos to be created are driving clickbait culture generally.

The direction the internet is taking seems to be taking us down a disturbing path.

Fashion, Maslow and Facebook’s control of social — Benedict Evans

An interesting look at the parallels between the fashion industry and modern day digital trendsetters.

The fashion industry does not set fashion – it proposes them. It tries to work out the mood and the zeitgeist and looks for ideas that might express that. The same, increasingly, for Facebook – it cannot really decide how people use its products or what they see, only propose. 

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Stop adding complexity – be an undesigner

How do you make something better? Human instinct often tells us we should add something to improve it. But this evidence shows we should stop adding complexity.

Spooky Dunc

Everyone on Twitter is changing their names to be Halloween themed. This is the best I can come up with.

One person’s history of Twitter, from beginning to end — Mike Monteiro

Ten years ago, a group of white dudes baked the DNA of the platform without thought to harassment or abuse. They built the platform with the best of intentions. I still believe this. But they were ignorant to their own blind spots. As we all are. This is the value of diverse teams by the way. When you’re building a tool with a global reach (and who isn’t these days) your team needs to look like the world it’s trying to reach. And ten years later, the abuse has proven too much to fix.