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Five Telegrams on the Usher Hall

Five Telegrams, Edinburgh International Festival 2018 opening event, by Anna Meredith and 59 Productions.

One of Edinburgh’s busiest roads was closed last night for this musical and visual work projected onto the Usher Hall. The sort of event that makes me really proud to live in Edinburgh.

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Platforms, agile, trust, teams and werewolves

Sometimes you go to conferences or meetups and they feel like a bit of a chore. You end up listening to a lot of PR spin from people who only want to share the best good news they’ve got. They’re usually under pressure to show their best side, and to sell their own success. We get why that happens, but it can be a dull experience if you’re in the audience.

This point from Giles Turnbull at Public Digital chimes with something that has been on my mind a bit recently.

People often talk about “failing fast” or being “unafraid to fail”. But those same people are often suspiciously unwilling to speak about their failures.

In a way that is understandable. But it would be good to hear more people genuinely opening up about the things that have gone wrong. Don’t just constantly trumpet the things that are going great (or the things that aren’t going great, but you say they are). If it’s true that you learn from failure, help others by sharing that — as well as your success stories.

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From tomorrow, Facebook will stop allowing automated posts to personal Facebook profiles. Dodgy ads, fake news and inflammatory content are all still allowed of course. But that’s how Facebook make their money. So normal people’s automated updates is what they’re clamping down on.

As a result, updates from my blog have stopped appearing on my Facebook profile.

In the words of an email WordPress.com have sent out about this:

We believe that eliminating cross-posting from WordPress is another step back in Facebook’s support of the open web, especially since it affects people’s ability to interact with their network (unless they’re willing to pay for visibility).

Funny that. 🤔

So if you would like to stay up to date with me on Facebook, I have now set up a page for my website — where it will still be possible for the updates to be pushed out to Facebook.

Follow Duncan Stephen on Facebook

However, I would encourage you to stay up to date another way. I don’t push everything out to Facebook. So the only way to be updated on everything I post is to subscribe to the RSS feed or email notifications.

Since this was pretty much all I used Facebook for by now, my Facebook profile will probably become very quiet.

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Cheese please.

Alex and I were very generously taken out for a lovely meal at Arras in York by good family friends Mary and David.

The highlight was this cheese trolley, expertly and theatrically introduced by the owner of the restaurant.

Alex was more interested in the petit fours.

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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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The rise of business bullshit — and how we can fight it

The modern organisation is obsessive about collaboration and consultation – but encouraging everyone’s opinions on everything invites bullshit.

Social media should have taught us by now that more opinions aren’t necessarily better…

The same applies to work. More consultation = more bullshit.

This is so true. Increasingly, I find myself feeling exasperated if I’m asked the provide an opinion on something I have no evidence about. We are often pressurised into giving opinions — “you’re supposed to be the expert”.

Baseless opinions fly around left, right and centre in any workplace. The last thing the world needs is another middle class dude like me with yet another opinion.

Let’s find the evidence instead.

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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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Why small teams win

Paul Taylor argues that small teams are undervalued, drawing an interesting comparison with introverts.

These small teams promote autonomy but also a better approach to collaboration. Having lots of small teams means they all need to be able to work together and to be able to access the common resources of the company, in order to achieve their larger goals.

The thinking has precedence in things like Brooks’ Law – which states that “adding manpower to a late project makes it later.” Getting bigger often means your communication overheads grow and doesn’t necessarily yield faster results. As Brooks said: “Nine women can’t make a baby in one month.”

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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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Do academic disciplines engage society?

An idea for how academia can make itself more relevant and accessible:

[I]t has been my view that universities should present their ‘shop windows’ in a more thematic way, with less of an emphasis on traditional Faculty structures (law, economics, physics, engineering, and so forth), and more on issues of general public and social concern. This will be easier if we do not construct all academic argument around the single subjects in which we were once trained.

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Support the DCA Cinema

Apparently there are plans afoot to build a multiplex cinema behind Groucho’s in Dundee. While there might be a case to build a cinema in central Dundee, it would be perverse to position it literally in the back yard of the DCA, a pivotal venue of Dundee’s creative scene.

I have written before about a certain contingent in Dundee that would rather not have the DCA Cinema, on the basis that a mainstream cinema would magically sprout up in its place.

I personally think that having a cultural hub that commits to showing independent films is much more valuable to Dundee than a cookie-cutter multiplex that you can find in any town.

A drop-in consultation on the proposed new multiplex is taking place on Tuesday 1 May at the Malmaison, from 3pm to 7pm.

As Creative Dundee summarises it:

…A multiplex so close to the DCA cinema would negatively impact its revenue, ability to show these films and still be around… This is the type of space that is needed in Dundee at the moment.

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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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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 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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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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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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The tools matter and the tools don’t matter

It is easy to sneer at a question about what brand of pen to use, or whether you should use a pencil or a typewriter.

But in this piece, Austin Kleon argues that different tools can help you “get you to a certain way of working in which you can get your conscious, mechanical mind out of the way” to enable creativity.

…handwriting is great for coming up with ideas, for note-taking and big picture thinking…

Typing, on the other hand, is great for producing writing for other people… There’s a thing called “transcription fluency,” which boils down to: “when your fingers can’t move as fast as your thoughts, your ideas suffer.”

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Of software designers and broken combs

An interesting way of thinking about skills development that I hadn’t heard of before. Conventional wisdom suggests aiming for a T shaped distribution of skills — (the horizontal bar representing shallow skills across many disciplines; the vertical bar representing deep understanding of one discipline).

The broken comb model suggests developing a moderately deep understanding across many disciplines.

With certain exceptions, organizations with many T-shaped people may have difficulty keeping all of those T-shaped people busy. If the base of my T is icon design, but there are no icons available to design, I am either stuck twiddling my thumbs, or doing something I’m much less good at.

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