Thursday, December 12, 2013

send your children to conferences

here is a revelation for anyone who has never been to a conference that's relevant to their profession: it's a great way to validate that you actually know what you're talking about. I mean, honestly, we mostly operate within the duck quack void of self-appreciation and we're only really interrogated and challenged when we're required to present, with authority, our opinion on what our interpretation of 'good' is in the narrow context of our own practice. but spending a day or two listening to people just like you, presenting their own ideas, propositions and theories, is a day or two where you quickly come to the realisation that you're not, in fact, the imposter you thought you might be. you're actually reasonably good. fuck it. you're very good.

a colleague of mine is out in san francisco this week, at a conference where there are some very clever, very smart people talking about design practice. I say they're very clever and very smart, but really, I've no idea. at least I've heard of them. they've mostly written a book about something or other that's relevant. but, you know, I've never worked with them, so I can't personally say whether they're any good at what they do. but they tell a good story. and that's what we've got to go on. and this colleague reflected on her first day at the conference with a telling phrase: I am getting the feeling we actually are doing stuff so right! and she means that as a company and as the individuals that make that company what it is. and I'm not surprised. because that's the feeling I get when I attend similar events.

when you find yourself in a safe environment, and there's not much safer than conferences, especially those with a significant proportion of first-time speakers, then that's when you give yourself permission to evaluate your own position. my first speaking engagement was at the IA summit. I'd never done any public speaking before, least of all about my own practice. but that environment was as perfect a place as any to evaluate, compare, contrast and make your own conclusions about how you're placed on the weird global/parochial peer spectrum. and really, it's not a question of relativity. it's much more about reassurance and a sense of acknowledgement.

which is all a rather roundabout way of saying that there is much to be gained from attending a conference of like-minded individuals to understand your own position within that community. I advocate conference attendance as a learning experience. bluntly put, I recommend conference attendance as the place where training budget is invested, because I believe that proactive conference attendance adds value as a career development opportunity by a factor of at least ten over traditional training or courseware. it's definitely where I spend all my training budget. and if that runs out, especially where the IA summit is concerned, I'll pay for it myself. it's a no-brainer.

Monday, December 9, 2013

commercially viable interaction design mastery

as this train slips by the half lit empty warehouses on the edge of town, imagination rustles the carrier bag of existence. I had a vivid dream last night about travelling on a train that gets cut lengthways from front to back as I'm travelling on it. just as I was about to extract meaning from that dream, my alarm sounded, like the distant call of a train, because I had to get up to get a train. the recursion of circumstance contained in those few seconds demanded that I extract some kind of metaphor from it, but try as I might, there really wasn't one. maybe something about a train of thought (stabs self with pencil of despair).

I met with a very bright person today who is very interested in pursuing a career in interaction design. so keen that he is pursuing a masters degree in interaction design. and while he is doing that masters degree, he would rather like to get commercial experience in practicing interaction design. upon discussing which, I suggested it would be very good if this could somehow enable us to better inform the curriculum for a masters degree for interaction design such that it enables graduates to be commercially relevant and employable because christ knows commercial design companies are forever moaning about academic design curriculums not being commercially focused enough and the irony of the recursion of him needing commercial experience to be commercially viable while suggesting we can somehow use his experience to inform the structure of a commercially focused interaction design course is not lost on me although most of that sentence possibly was.

I bought a paramore album yesterday. I can't explain that at all.

Friday, December 6, 2013

patterns

on the discovery and deliberation of patterns it is a better thing we do to deny our learning and reference the landscape that we surface for whereupon some fresh faces are removed from their host and commune upon the meaning and principle of the very elements that evoke the things which we're bound to call engagement emotion experience and delight then our challenge must be to question the very semantics of our endeavour for when we distribute this cognitive load and balance expectations most notably on the axis of strategic and attainable then there will be a mountain of prejudice and presumption that once manifest and articulated may only result in an irresistible deference to an equilibrium that defines the problem for as much as we coalesce around the principles and we refine refine reiterate and replay we ultimately provide our own context and that is where we imagine those patterns as extensions of the understanding we currently have rather than an understanding of what can be we may at times realise such distances from our everyday that we are able to explore without constraint and within that we can begin to discover those patterns that behaviourally would seem to get us closer to some kind of new resolution then within those arbitrary boundaries we're going to realise our own conditions and parameters and they will determine the measure of success against which our interactions and behaviours can be evaluated making the estimation in those terms enables those participants and practitioners to filter around a common axis with a predictable set of data without this earthing there can be no parity and without this parity we're divergent at best and tangental at least if we can begin to recognise what common language enables us to articulate then the patterns begin to emerge

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

on specificity

when we were trying to find a suit for my dad when my sister got married, there wasn't much of a plan. I mean, there wasn't a particular style or look we were going for. we didn't really have a great understanding of what might be the right thing, other than it should probably be a bit, like, summery. but beyond that, we were at a bit of a loss. so we thought we should consult the expert in these matters. a tailor.

having explained to the best of our ability exactly how we thought my dad's suit should manifest, having stumbled over at least half an oxford english dictionary and a couple of rogets, we alighted on a deafening silence, accompanied by an awkward gawping stare, waiting, almost reverently, for said tailor to deliver a verdict. and when he spake it felt as like it were the very voice of heaven cascading over our heavy shoulders. and he did spake unto us thus: "you need something a little..." yes? "...a little..." go on? "well..."

"unstructured"

...

"let me show you"

actually, it was the perfect description of what was required. I can't really describe to you how the suit looked, but I think you can get an idea from that single word. but it isn't the word that made the difference. it was the acknowledgement that specificity in of itself wasn't the thing that was providing any clarity. it was using the right language based on the context that made the difference. and he just made that word up. but it was exactly the right word at the right time, based on the information he had.

I am the least academic person I know. I'm a terrible intellectual and appallingly unintelligent. do I know tufte? no I don't know tufte. have I been getting away with it as a user experience designer for ten years? maybe. but you can't personally say that unless you've worked with me and I've disabled comments for anybody who has worked with me.

I've done good things though. I have apparently made clients happy. I haven't changed the world. I haven't set out to. but to the best of my abilities I design for the user based on the evidence I have. much like the tailor. I really don't know whether I'm using a taxonomy, an information architecture, a flow diagram, a blueprint, a journey map, a haynes manual, a cognitive disentropy matrix or whatever. I could really not care what those things are and the limits or constraints of what they're supposed to communicate.

but I'm good at finding the word. and if I can sit in a room, with a pen and something to use it on, then I can probably show you what I mean. and that's about as specific as it gets.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

on exposure

I was speaking with Andrew the other day about the transition from in-house to agency and how that adjustment takes place after a number of years at the former. because a number of years at the former has a particular pace and a particular comfort in the ownership and management of the design you do and the thinking you think and the constraints you know and the collaboration you undertake and the scrutiny under which you find yourself and the measurement of success that you might be subjected to which is likely measured over a period not much less than a decent-sized freelance contract against a set of goals and objectives mapped out over a period not much less the bronze age.

if you have spent a meaningful amount of time as a resident designer on the client side, either as a larger team, or, worse still, as the design team of one, you've likely woken up at your desk one day and realised you can probably go back to sleep for a while and nobody will notice until the end of the quarter. a massive generalisation of course, and more likely just an accurate description of my 14 years in-house, but the point is that the pace and scrutiny is different. and it can be a safe place. and you can get away with it. and you can sometimes disappear completely.

once you make the change, however, you can suddenly find yourself very exposed. I thought it was perfectly acceptable to take 6 months to design a faceted navigation system for a line of hardware. and, you know, it kind of was. but as soon as you get started on your first proper design project agency side, you are immediately aware that there is something different. people want to know what you're doing all the time. they want to know why. they want you to explain to them the things they don't understand and tell you why those things you suddenly can't articulate aren't actually that good anyway. they want to question everything you do. and, by the way, that 6 months? that's actually 6 days here. if there's one thing that really hits home in your first 3 months of transition, it's the change in pace. and it's not that the change in pace is a bad thing. it's just that it feels like you don't have enough time to think. which means you don't have enough time to design. which is stressful and surprising and difficult and awkward. because you might not actually be able to do it. you might fail. and everyone will be able to say they told you so. and you'll be exposed.

if I'm honest, it took about a year to get used to the change in pace, which I'm sure will be validated by the account teams who's budget I used to work that out. I'm pretty efficient now. and that doesn't mean I'm by any means a worse designer for being a more efficient designer. it just means I'm a bit quicker. if anything, I believe it makes me a better designer, since I've worked on the skill that is understanding and articulating the very thing in a given design challenge that is where the opportunity lies. and I can do that very quickly. and I can do it for multiple design challenges. and I can move from studio to studio, whiteboard to whiteboard, desk to desk, and I can point to the thing that matters. it's an acquired skill. it takes time to learn. but the efficiency in the clarity is what facilitates pace.

the less tangible form of exposure comes when you are suddenly placed under an intense level of interrogation regarding the very thing that you think makes you a designer in the first place. your design thinking. or whatever you want to call it. that process you go through when you think about stuff. and write down words. and draw boxes. or abstract categorisations of emotions. maybe you use different colour pens. maybe you cut bits of paper out and rearrange them in a way that you think is the responsive version of the jean genie. whatever you do to evolve insight into articulation. evidence to ideas. you know, DOING DESIGN THINGS. for that is the place where you've likely never really had to justify yourself to other people who might actually be designers too who might even be better designers who might even be honest designers who might actually tell you what they think. because when design is money, clarity is currency. you really need to be able to explain yourself. be under no illusion, when you work for an agency, your constraint is time. but your reputation is all about quality. so quality is, and should be, ruthlessly monitored, evaluated, and understood. and that's why the integrity of design and design thinking is the first thing that you will get caught out on. well, apart from the pace thing. but it's not personal. even though that's what it feels like the first few times someone like me sits down with you, looks at your designs and pulls that horrible squinty patronising-but-really-caring face that tells you there's something not quite right. but I do that because, actually, there's something not quite right. I've exposed you. how you then deal with that is that up to you. if you're anything like me, you'll probably print out pictures of me and stick them to your bedroom door whereupon you'll spend a full 3 nights throwing manically sharpened pencils at them sobbing in your underpants slowly mouthing "I can design. I'm a good designer. I can design. I'm a good designer. I can design. I'm a good designer" over and over and over until you're all cried out and you collapse on the floor onto a pile of ripped up creative reviews as the queen is dead plays on repeat over the wail of sirens and the incessant banging on the door.

you get over it. it's all part of the transition. welcome to the real world.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

on pathways

sometimes I get all wistful about forest paths and the unloved tracks of forgotten intent. often that's because I'm wondering where my dog is. equally often it's because I wonder where my god is. which is to mean that I can't begin to describe the realisation of paths less travelled whether I consider them in terms of dog or god. there's no difference. all there is is the relic of some lost spark of curiosity manifest in the loose dirt and leaves of time.

for clarity, I don't believe in a god. sometimes I don't believe in my dog. but I do believe that these manifestations of chaotic traversals that scar this earth have more to do with synchronicity than we might imagine. those pathways in the forest are both the magic and the mundane. the structured and the intangible. the mirror and the well. the loved. the unloved. but above all, inextricable and beautiful. for every half-trodden pathway, there exists a sense of the terrible and wonderful history of the moments that make that path place. place where you, I, my dog, and an epoch of experiences come together in the half-light and a half-glance as we pass through time and wonder; what if?

whereupon someone's jack russell jumps at the leg of time itself and the moment is lost in an apology and a god biscuit. but, just before that, as time stands still at the branch of life, where instinct begets choice and all history collides, we're faced with the overwhelming sense that not taking that path might be to deny ourselves reward. reward for curiosity. reward for courage. reward for conviction. if we don't take that path now, we're just another part of someone's else's tomorrow. the tomorrow where they, their dog, and an epoch of experiences come together in the half-light and a half-glance as they pass through time and wonder; what if?

but the truth about these paths is that you can't find these paths if you look for these paths. for they exist only in the blind spots of consciousness. you can only see them if you look away. and then only if you're in the right place. at the right time. and only if the path is looking for you. and there's a raven on an oak tree reciting the autobiography of edgar allen poe. or something. the point is, as we move through time and space on the bark and boards of our earthly existence, our sense of place is as much to do with the predictability of the path as it with the beauty of the unknown. and seizing the unknown may be our only chance to be lost to the forest forever.

there's no parallel with findability or discoverability here, much as I'd like to bring it to a conclusion that has something vaguely to do with signposting and waymarking and user experience, it's just something that's occurred to me and I wrote some words about. maybe I could draw a parallel to information architecture or something. maybe not.

Friday, September 27, 2013

speaking words at dare conference 2013

(tl;dr: video is here)

I think I did a good thing™ at the dare conference in London this month. I was asked to do a 5 minute lightning talk on overcoming a fear. I chose to speak on the fear of becoming an artist which is really the fear of calling yourself an artist without adding 'a bit of a wanker' in the same sentence.

I was very happy to do this. I like lightning talks. I like the format, the excitement, the tension, the clarity, the medium, the message, the constraint, the openness, the execution, the delivery, the focus, the rigour, the directness, the fear. the wit. the mischief.

I had a particular vision for how this talk could be delivered. I'd harboured a fantasy for the last year or so about curating a event about design delivered entirely in spoken word format. like, you know, poetry. words. with structure and meaning and context and life and narrative and darkness and cadence and rhyme and passion and space and pace and pathos and pain and light and heat. and wit. and mischief.

I knew the dare conference would be the right place to try this out. and it very much was. taking a risk was all part of the deal. so many thanks to the dare conference team and particularly to jonathan kahn for his efforts in making the thing happen.

most of these words came together in about 90 minutes on a train to somewhere in a haze of impulse I'll never forget. if you're interested in playing along, lightning style, they don't actually start until slide 2. you'll get the idea.

in addition, the event was recorded, which means you have the dubious pleasure of witnessing me reading the words out loud on a stage and everything. I included dramatic pauses, because I know you like those. many thanks to the folks at dare for the recording, and to Michael Adcock for extracting and hosting the 5 minutes that you can find here (note, the official version now included - thanks Dare Conf).

if you feel like taking part in a spoken word event with a focus on design, let me know. it would be awesome. find me at tim at timcaynes dot com. or on the twitter. or here. or anywhere.






I said it's art, it don't look like much, but it's the way that I see and I think about stuff
I said it's art, and it don't look like much, but it's the way that I see and I think about stuff

and you said, I don't get it, what's that meant to be? what's that thing right there? it that supposed to be trees? if this is your art then I ain't buying. it's just a bit shit mate, you're not even trying.

I said that's not the point. it's a manifestation. not some allegory on deforestation. just a representation. an approximation. the way that I deal with life's complications. it's the way that I see things, life through my lens. I put it on paper to see how it ends.

and you said all I'm saying is don't give up the day job. I said I'm 8 years old. I don't have a day job. but the words they cut through me, I took them to heart. and I put away childish things I called art.

and this is music, it don't sound like much, but it's the way that I wish I could speak about stuff.
and this is music, and it don't sound like much, but it's the way that I wish I could speak about stuff.

just listen a minute, I wish I could say, cos these notes and these lyrics I arranged in this way are the sounds of my fears slowly drifting away, if only today I could make you press play. if only today I could make you press play.

but I'm being a idiot. who'd want to listen? who'd want to put themselves through the embarrassment? it's just miserable teenage artistic pretensions when narcissism is the mother of all your inventions. don't worry, it's nothing, I'll put it away. I'll keep to myself the things I want to say.

and what is an artist anyway? cos I think I might be one, but I just couldn't say. could I take this one line, just six seconds of time, to define in a rhyme my perception of artist as somebody who, just believes what they do. would that work for you?

and the thing I feel most, much stronger than fear, is the desire to confront it, the very idea, that being an artist will somehow expose the things about me that nobody knows. there's things about me that nobody knows.

and since I've started, the artist: creative catharsis, the role that we play to frame what we say art is, the channel, the filter, the lightning conductor, the creator, the canvas, the wilful disruptor. protagonist, lover.

the artist. it's just a label. don't worry. it doesn't matter.

I said it's me. I don't look like much, but let's start with that and move on a touch.
I said it's me. I don't look like much, but let's start with that and move on a touch.

and wait, before you say, yes it is supposed to look that way. you don't like it? that's fine, I'm learning to deal with the things you might say and the way that I feel, because taking the risk is all part of the deal. taking the risk is all part of the deal.

and thanks for coming, this exhibition was hard. three hundred and sixty-five days have gone past but of this thing I've created, I'm immensely proud. it's lifted a burden. it's lifted a cloud.

see the thing that I've learned, the one thing that's true, is noone can tell you what might get you through because art is in everything, the words that you say, the pictures you make or the music you play, the simple and beautiful you do every day

in the pieces of you in the trail that you leave as you touch and you see and you feel and believe, as you pass through this world seeking meaning and wonder, at times you'll feel desperate, at times you'll go under, but fuck it if this isn't why we try harder, fuck it if this isn't why we try harder

an apology. no, not for the language, but for using this book like some kind of appendage.
but I'm not really reading, it could just be blank. it's an act, it's my art, since we're on the south bank.

see, art is expression, it just needs some arrangement. it needs curation as a personal statement and when I thought to do that, I was over the fear. when I thought to do that, it all became clear.

art is in all of the things that you do. and being an artist is just knowing that's true.
art is in all of the things that you do. and being an artist is just knowing that's true.


Thursday, July 11, 2013

the terrible and horrible realisation that you don't know what somebody is talking about when you think that you probably should


it's alright. you probably don't need to know.

but it's true, if that person is saying it, then omg omg omg you probably really should know it so you can at least acknowledge it and talk about it and update your slides to reference it and then explain how you've always been doing it but actually when you were doing it before people had a name for it it was just something you did as part of what everybody now calls holistic interaction experiential lean mapping or something omg omg omg I don't even believe anything I say any more I'm a terrible imposter and I'm going to be found out why do I bother clearly I should just go back to compulsively rearranging the bookshelf in my bedroom I hate myself and want to die in a professionally self destructive kind of way.

but it's alright. you probably don't need to know.

but it's true, if everybody you follow on twitter is making reference to it, then omg it's even worse and now they're all actually making it more obscure by making oblique references to some historical precedence which is clearly the foundation for the thing this person is talking about but omg omg since this is like THE CORE PRINCIPLE AND I DON'T EVEN KNOW THAT THEN WHAT HOPE IS THERE FOR ME and this person over here is already saying that the thing is already not a thing anymore and I was going to say something funny about the thing sounding a bit like a fruit or something but now I might as well just not say anything because I have no idea what I'm doing in this industry and everybody knows it and dammit it does sound like a fruit why can't I just say that omg hang on the person who said it in the first place has now said what they meant was something a bit different to what everybody is saying and they're all wrong and there's a bit of an argument going on I wish I could say the fruit thing why don't I know what's going on.

but it's alright. you probably don't need to know.

but it's true, if you're sat in the half-darkness of a meetup in the basement of the faculty of brain hurt sciences or the half-brightness of a design agency eyebrow in a soho loft listening to that person you've always wanted to listen to and then they casually throw out reference to the thing and everybody in the room laughs and you don't know why so you laugh along but you're thinking to yourself omg I only just managed to get to grips with ironic self-referential unicorn bon-mots what is this that I'm now supposed to knowingly acknowledge without actually anybody actually ever telling me to my satisfaction WHAT IT ACTUALLY IS AND INCIDENTALLY I'M BEGINNING TO GET AM I THE ONLY PERSON WHO DOESN'T ACTUALLY KNOW RAGE ACTUALLY then, surely, I'm not the only person who doesn't get it.

it's alright. you're not. imposter syndrome hits everyone. it's always been there. except now it's accelerated and amplified by the immediacy of the broadcast and disseminate model of social sharing. the discoverability of knowing what you apparently don't know is optimised to a point that it almost happens in negative time. it's over before it emerges. you're already too late. you missed the fruit joke.

but it's alright. I'm so far behind I'm actually way ahead. at least, that's how I deal with it.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Your design resume is awesome but I don't care

I've spoken a lot in the last few days about what user experience is. My best descriptions don't include those words any more. I'm finding that I can only express the qualities I look for when I'm hiring UX professionals in terms of life experiences. Meaning that I tend to prioritise specific academic qualification or checklists of skills much lower than I prioritise the things that make you the person that you are. And I have to acknowledge that that makes it almost impossible for potential candidates to formally structure an approach that I might respond positively to. My assessment of what makes an engaging resume or portfolio does seem to be at odds to the majority of hiring managers in the field or, more specifically, recruiters. I'm grateful to my UXPA mentees for pointing that out, since otherwise I may just consider that everyone is writing terrible resumes which is why they're finding it difficult to penetrate into the first level of human interaction with me - an interview.

I'll be honest. A lot of resumes I see are terrible. But worse than that, a lot of them are just not very compelling. I don't find anything in them that makes me want to invest the effort I really should. There's nothing in there that makes me interested in who that person is. I try, and fail, to respond positively to a checklist of application software, when, frankly, it's meaningless to me. I have an expectation that anyone who is applying for a design role can manage application software. If you can't, I'll teach you how. That's not the thing that makes you a designer. What makes you a designer is your ability to think, articulate, challenge, interrogate, evolve, be bold, be different, be confident, be accountable and have the courage of your conviction. I really need to see something of that in your approach to me, since that's really what differentiates you. It might just be how you word a personal statement or whatever you call it. It might be in the narrative that forms the basis of your portfolio. It might be that you've got an interest in garden furniture. Really, I can't tell you what it looks like, but I have to respond to you at a level more significant than simply a well-structured document. I have to work with you. I have to like you. So give me a sense of what that might be like, rather than letting me know how good you are at using Axure.

In the end, I can only offer a personal opinion. I'm the least professional professional I know. But since I'm hiring designers, it might be useful, or at least interesting. I'm willing to accept it might actually just be more confusing. But if you were considering working with me, at least you now know something about the things that make me the person that I am.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

excerpt

whereupon the twentieth century withered to its unceremonious and overinflated end and so began the shift from simply doing to understanding for as the question of needs and behaviours was seen to encompass a new empathetic aesthetic in reality we were simply questioning why the plans were neither best laid or with foundation since we couldn't adequately express those plans in terms of the context by which end users were to be expected to interact engage and consume far less for us to imagine that we might somehow manage a longer term expectation through a better understanding of the psychology of human behaviours specifically related to the interface of interactions between ourselves and the pixels and patterns on the viewing planes of the computer display in this regard we were learning to manage the subtle increments to our references for human computer interactions and how we applied those increments to our clumsy manifestations of engineering design those crude responses to the predominantly functional definition of a problem boundary sufficed for our early renditions of solutions as experiences but fell some way short of a necessary incorporation of a significantly broader set of methods and practices borrowed and repurposed for a new set of inputs for a new set of outputs in that crossover from a popularisation of web design based on an abstract representation of basic human and computer interaction points to a deeper understanding of the cognitive primitives that in turn become the patterns of behaviour that model an interaction was nothing short of revelatory in a few short years at the very end of a century the principals of design shifted from physical to experiential in a way that few might have been in a position to really articulate moreover it was more closely aligned to the visions of the near future we were living expressed fifty years previously by the likes of clarke and asimov in their explorations of a developing sentience and self awareness in the objects and interfaces that we humans create to satisfy the craving to objectify ourselves perhaps at the beginning of the new century designing for a new set of experiences was a reaction to a search for a new set of meanings as a new millennium forced us to collectively appraise our progress against that imagined future and seek new way to express meaning through the design of the world around us based on a closer focus on our own position within it what this was really bound by was the extent to which our ability to reinvent ourselves was limited by our need to attach meaning to our roles by association with and extension of a discrete collection of principles seemingly snatched from the grip of a decaying academia half buried by the weight of its own expectation

Friday, May 24, 2013

bongos

dirty crowdsourced topicality in the face of wantonly and abject dereliction of the idea factory presents unique opportunities for the playful construction of words in an order such that once spake might elucidate some retrospective meaning like some backward journey through time that begins at the end with the ripped out pages of the book yet to be written and ends with the realisation that many this way tread upon the atrophied pathways that for a generation as yet unaware of the passage of themselves are the very trails of their own existence mapping the life stories of the millennium across a landscape of indifference which in its own way is a bit like facebook innit.

for we render our own paths across this landscape leaving the tiniest most significant pieces of ourselves as dust upon the earth that dances and dies with every footstep that disturbs the peaceful equilibrium while the future self declines linkedin invitations from our own reflection in the broken windows of house parties in clapham where we drift into a haze of tomorrows as the bongos of iniquity are drummed in our ears by the flat palms of forever.

looking forward is much the same as looking back. except its the other way around. but that depends on how you've described yourself and whether your description is meaningful to me, because, after all, here I am, right beside you. as far as I can see, we're both as entropied as each other. it's just that I'm a bit taller, so I have further to go. if we leave together, we might just make it.

Friday, April 26, 2013

That's how I knew this hypothesis would break my flow

it is a comfortable complacency that makes a problem easy to solve. even worse when you've developed that complacency over a considerable number of years which by the virtue of time passed assumes some authority by experience. it's not even authority that's the problem. I can do authority. authority is really just gravity. it's the sense that one is somehow innately qualified to pontificate and elaborate because they might use very long sentences without much punctuation which means its really quite difficult to know whether its puerile conjecture or learned missive.

I'm experienced. I've been around for ages. I know what a problem looks like and I know what a solution looks like. very often it's very easy to use the very solution that probably solved a very similar problem when I came across it, ooh, a coupe of years ago or something. and generally that's alright. it's an adequate response to a challenge that while intellectually does not stretch the rubber of the mind can serve to define success within a constraint borne of utter fucking laziness.

and the commoditisation of the mind is a curious and debilitating thing. off-the-cortex solutions are a shortcut to banality. ready-to-think is the antithesis of brain couture. the synaptic pathways trodden through the infinite green pastures of the mind are the ruts in which our freedom of thought gets stuck, guiding it irrevocably to the cliff edge of reason where, like pathetic idea bison, it simply throws itself off the edge, crashing into the dry river bed of missed opportunity.

I mean, just because something worked before, it doesn't mean it'll simply work again. have a proper think.

Friday, April 19, 2013

the glorious IA summit

it feels like it's been a lifetime since I returned from Baltimore after the glorious IA summit at the beginning of April. it's the event that leaves you feeling like that when its over, like the end of a long hot summer where you gambolled through the shimmering and abundant fields of learning, dancing like a teenager with your new best friends dipping your toes in the stream of enlightenment and talking like you don't know the words for the things you have to say, watching the proud and beautiful stags of truth barking atop the mountain as if to say THERE IS NO TRUTH, JUST THE ONTOLOGY OF TRUTHS, COME HEAR ME, FOR I AM THE STAG OF BEAUTY AND I SPEAK OF THE CHANGE YOU WANT TO MAKE AND BY THE WAY SINCE I'M A PHYSICAL MANIFESTATION OF ALL YOUR ENDEAVOURS I REALLY AM THE MISSING LINK BETWEEN THE COGNITIVE AND SPATIAL DEFINITION OF CONTEXT THAT DEFINES IT ALL. HURRAH!

or something like that. to be clear, there is a reason I allocate 100% of my available budget to attend this one event each year. it's because I get a year's worth of worth from it. I mean, I go to quite a few smaller events throughout the year and meet splendid and lovely people and see inspiring and challenging speakers and learn so much about things that are totally relevant to me. but the IA summit is quite different. without wishing to get weirdly evangelical and creepy about it (and not the dan willis kind of creepy), I believe it's an event that changes lives. overstating it? maybe. but I know that attending for the last few years has changed me for the better. and I've spoken to many people who have attended, often for the first time, who are so touched and moved and surprised and enlivened by their attendance that they can't quite express what it is that it's done to them. I'm not about to qualify what 'better' means, because that's not the point. I don't do definitions. but what better means to me is what counts. the change for the better is what I recognise in myself and how I attribute that change to my attendance at the IA summit is up to me. nobody can alter that.

in the grand scheme of things, with so much going in the world, and so many demands and so little time and so much to do and so much to say and so many responsibilities and so on and so on it is perhaps easy to say fuck's sake it's only a conference for people who get weirdly obsessed about the structure of things and why are you getting so worked up about it there's more important things to worry about but whatever. let me bark this at you. THIS EVENT IS AN OASIS OF AWESOME. IT CHANGES LIVES. I AM THE STAG OF TRUTH SO HEAR ME ROAR.

thank you to the beautiful people, old and new, that make the change happen. I love you. if anyone would like to tell me to calm down, don't bother.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Yes I do that too

A continuing and repeated conversation at the IA summit in Baltimore this week is about knowing how to say what you think you can say about the things you'd like to say.

That can be having a bazillion drafts of blog posts that you think nobody is ever going to want to read, or wondering whether anyone in their right mind would sit through 45 minutes of you telling them how you actually have no idea what you're talking about but that's alright because you're not about to change the world with your reimagineeration of practice fundamentals you just did a thing recently that included some of the stuff that everybody here also seems to be doing but you weren't sure whether you were doing the right IA thing and actually you weren't even sure it was IA at all but, like, it was just a good story about how I did a thing which you think is a bit like how other people do a thing and perhaps is would be interesting to other people to see how I did it you know like let's understand how we actually do what we do with the things we know and see if we might learn something or validate an approach or find a different way to do it rather that necessarily trying to understand how calling something a fish means I've subconsciously induced a cognitive brain spasm which can be expressed as an inducement to a systemic failure in brain pattern structure mapping that is an unavoidable and not entirely unexpected relation of disentropy that exposes your failing as a labelling person to understand the role of that artefact in the ontology of the universe of stuffz.

We want to hear and read and see and discuss that stuff. We just want you to tell a story about what you've been doing. It's pretty simple. I mean, we like the big crazy things, but there's nothing like a good story, well told, about a personal experience, that helps us say YES I DO THAT TOO.

Friday, April 5, 2013

On being topical


One of the most difficult things to overcome when attempting to create some masterpiece of literary commentary with a topical edge is trying to work out what the topical edge is without coming across like some trollbaiting landgrabber whose only purpose in the act of creation is to somehow capitalise on a zeitgeist that probably isn't geisting and most likely has run out of zeit in order to further some perceived standing in a peer community whereupon the very act of dribbling inanely onto your ipad keyboard would be celebrated with some not insignificant cacophony of trumpets, trombones, grinding teeth, handclaps, notification alerts and apnoea snort-awakes such that congratulations, you've captured the moment like some now fish in your net of insight, grabbed from the jaws of one of those thought leader brown bears poised over the river of consciousness ready to paw a beautiful shimmering leaping thought salmon to thought death AND THEN EAT IT WHOLE WITH THE HEAD AND EVERYTHING.

Sometimes it's simply a question of saying something because you feel like it for no reason at all. I can pretend that it's relevant to the current topic somehow by relating it to a current activity, like watching the morning keynote at the IA summit and wondering how my using IA writer and saving into the cloud to write this plays rather neatly into Scott's contention that I'm locked into some kind of app cave hardwired not to the cloud but to a cloud in the sky of clouds and make some ironic commentary on my connectedness to a old paradigm and how I'm literally careening into the trough of ultimate despair without a smart seat belt, but that would be a pretty cheap shot at crowbarring a topical reference in to a moderately nonsensical accident of prose just because I happen to be talking about this stuff later. I would never do that.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The trouble with context

At the Information Architecture Summit in Baltimore, I’ve just had the pleasure of a full day with Karen McGrane, considering content strategies for mobile which of course isn’t content strategies for mobile at all but content strategies for content which might somehow be consumed by 76% of us using some kind of hand-held device or other as the primary device that we use to consume that stuff because that’s our preference notwithstanding the fact that indeed for some 40% or other of the 76% or other that preference is actually the only option because using a smartphone to access the internet is the only way to do it and don’t forget that an ever-growing percentage or other of the new natives in the 18-24 age range just actually don’t see why you’d want to access the internet on anything other than your smartphone because, like, using a proper computer is what your dad does in the corner of the home office and I should know because that dad is me.

Which is to say, don’t get led astray by implied contexts of physical devices when considering the user needs and behaviours in relation to the structure and organisation of the content they may consume. There is no specific mobile use case that defines a content strategy when considering your options for creating a compelling user experience. There is only content. And the structure of that content. And the user experience of interacting with that content is what defines the context of use. It is a misappropriation of the term to hypothesise scenarios based on context, since context can only ever be undefined up to the point at which the manifestation of the moment of interaction occurs.

We can, of course, be pragmatic and facilitate a conversation about context by making some assumptions about likely renditions of scenes where actors follow a script to bring to life some awkwardly cinematic versions of potentially reasonably representative portrayals of the personification of a user need. These are the ‘what if’ propositions that at least enable us to align our thought gazelles behind a weirdly myopic vision of a real life event. It enables us to say ‘that might happen. what might we consider based on the knowledge acquired from that?’ And actually, we can write pretty good scripts. And we can develop pretty good personas.

But we’re just making it up. And we bring to that imagination every subtle or not so subtle nuance of our own limited experiences and assumptions to the point where we can imagine a whole sundance festival of what ifs but if the only person in the audience for the special screening of ‘a series of what ifs in the style of a seemingly disconnected robert altman style parable that ultimately defines the human experiences but coincidentally demonstrates the likely context of use for you the user’ just sits there slowly shaking their head muttering something like ‘they don’t understand. they don’t understand’ then we’re wasting our time.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Have phone, will travel

This is a blog on a plane. It is the story of a number of systems I'm using to make the overall travel experience simpler, more efficient, and less painful. It will include this plane. It will include a few trains. It might also include a taxi or two. And hotels. And maybe some government systems that will allow me to enter the country without all those questions they felt necessary to ask me back in 1984 because I had a bit of a beard and looked like I maybe hadn't slept much.

It will definitely include online booking systems.

All of today's journey was researched online. Of course it was. How else do you do it these days? Nearly all of it was booked online, apart from the taxi. The taxi company we use for work does have some kind of online booking system I think, but it works rather better to phone the night before and tell them in person, because I'm not entirely convinced the online system is anything more than a copy of wordstar sending faxes to a pigeon.

And everything has been tracked online. Confirmation of booking, booking reference, whether the train is on time, what platform it will be on, checking into my fight, getting my boarding pass, checking the plane will be on time, what departure gate it will be at, right up to me sitting here in 27k somewhere over a cloud the size of Greenland, having taken a photo of my feet and a highlife magazine and bored 1044 to death with it on twitter.

When I say online, of course, I mean, on my phone. Everything I've mentioned here has been done using my phone. That's to say the train company, the airline, the hotel chain (not the taxi company) make it possible for me to arrange and book and track an entire travel itinerary just using my phone. I mean, I could have used a desktop computer or a laptop, but, you know, that's not the first thing we do these days. I fill the gaps between whatever I do either side of gaps by fiddling with my phone. It might as well be productive fiddling. Those companies might as well make it easy to use their service over someone else's, because, increasingly, if I can't do it on my phone, I won't do it at all.

There are of course, some drawbacks to a wholly phone-based travel experience. When I want to print out the hotel details to leave at home, I'm a bit stuck. It's almost an affront to have to turn on the poor neglected desktop just to connect to a printer. But really, that's about it. For me, this is an entirely paperless trip. So paperless, in fact, that I forgot to take the most important piece of paper of all. My passport.

Ok, so I didn't really forget it, BUT I NEARLY DID. That's a good enough anecdote for me to describe the modern travel experience and how it's changed our expectations of what is possible. The ubiquity of mobile and its effect on some of our largest ecosystems continues to change the way we manage our lives, mostly, I think, for the better.

I should probably point out the some of the apps and mobile sites I had to use to make this happen were fucking awful, but that might take the edge off my nicely upbeat story, so I won't.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Design worth doing

I’m in a hotel room with half a bottle of zinfandel and a packet of mini eggs and I’m considering what design means to me which is surely a place that should be populated with mental road signs that only say STOP but curiously say GO like some alternate roadwork universe wherein the boards are all in my favour but I don’t believe them so I immediately inadvertently drive into a ditch which coincidentally was signposted WAKE UP.

Which is by way of unconnected allegory some reference to a dichotomous puzzlement that’s poked my cheek with wet finger pulling a face that says ‘what is design worth if it’s not design worth doing?’ which is some curious garlandian manifestation that has brushed my conscience and ultimately led me to question the thing that I do. Or, at least, the way that I do it. Or maybe it’s why. I’m not entirely sure.

I like designing. I’m quite good at it. I’m lucky enough to do it as the job I get paid for that supports me and my family and my dog and my craving for mini eggs. I don’t change the world with it, but I think, and I create, and I make, and I use unnecessary commas, and everything is quite good with the world. But it’s not a world I’m changing through design. I don’t subscribe to a manifesto that I may have written, consumed, co-opted or saved in google reader, that states that the reason I design the things I design is somehow for the betterment of design as a whole and some better world for the future. I design because I’m a designer. I’m fine with that.

That’s not to say there might be a better way for me to design. That might even mean there’s a better me by design. There are plenty of ways that I, my team, my company, my profession can be better, braver, different in the way design gets realised. And I think that’s something I can try and do something about. I’ve been inspired with that wet-fingered conscience-brushing episode to consider that better way. I’m acknowledging that my hypothesis hasn’t necessarily tested well and I can learn from that and iterate and test. I’m allowing myself to fail in pursuit of a better design me. And I believe that probably is a thing worth doing by design.

But there are others out there for whom that isn’t enough. There is more to design than simply design itself and that more is what can really change the world. That truly is design worth doing and it requires the breath of dreams to power the wings of angels and you know those angels exist but they look just like you and me or maybe in my case about 20 years younger and they actually don’t have a funny noise coming from the exhaust of their Vauxhall Zafira but you know I digress the point is THOSE ANGELS NEED TO FLY.

Design worth doing is a reflection of the change you want to make. Do what it takes to make the change happen. Maybe start with designing a bigger bag of mini eggs or something. OH YOU KNOW WHAT I’M SAYING.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Untapped

My first speaking gig was at the IA summit. I mean, I didn’t piss about, I went for it. In the end, it was actually a good place to do your first proper public speaking event, because those IA summit folks really know how to look after first timers. But it was rather a deep-end approach to learning the public speaking thing and a pretty expensive and nerve-wracking one too.

Tonight I’ve spent a most agreeable few hours in the company of some other people having their first go at standing up in front of a room full of their peers, talking out loud, and wondering if the words that are coming out are actually being heard by the people in front of them or they are just being thrown into the air and intercepted by some cognitive unbalance field that catches them, turns them into unintelligible arse and thrusts them backwards into the ears of blank-faced gibbons who are suspended in some alternate time universe where the only facial expressions available are wholly blank or mildly indifferent and the occasional metaphor for insignificance in the face of the impenetrable vastness of the vacuum of space gently drift before your eyes like the last dying leaf of the relevance tree as it flutters downwards amidst the eternity of the silent, slow, nod of the donkey of empathy. Maybe that’s just me.

The untapped event, organised with some impressive vigour by Sophie Freiermuth and Richard Wand at Possible, in London, was an admirable showcase for unheard UX voices from within the community. You know, those people you actually work with who say interesting things, have interesting views, and can have a conversation like real adults do, but don’t seem to have a good place to share that with a wider audience of their peers. Or, if you like, it’s a chance to hear from people you’ve never heard of speaking about things that you’ve often thought of. Or, if you like, it’s just not Jason Mesut again. Honestly, that’s not a dig at Jason Mesut, but he would acknowledge, I’m sure, that he is become one of the UX circuit in the UK, and there is room for others. I might say that say of myself. I dunno. WHATEVER. I’m stuck on a train right now waiting for the fire brigade and national rail to assess a chemical spill just outside Hatfield Peveril, north of Chelmsford and my train hasn’t moved for 30 minutes and I won’t be home until at least 2:30 am and I’m suddenly getting a bit stabby.

Notwithstanding that, the reason for my involvement with the event, and, indeed, Jason’s, was that I had volunteered to help out as a mentor for one of the new speakers. I thought that maybe what I’ve learned from my short tenure as ‘most famous speaker from Norwich who occasionally stays on-topic about UX but generally arses about with long words to try and look clever and simply resorts to cheap jokes to see if the audience are still awake’ might be useful to others in some shape or form, and so I was very lucky to included as part of the mentoring team. For each speaker, a mentor. A one-to-one relationship. A chance to pass on some of the things I’d learned over the years to someone who might even find it useful.

And it all turned out lovely. Alex Ng, who is currently working with me at Flow, was to benefit from my exacting principles about literal, metaphorical and unintelligible jokes, slide subversion, easter eggs, audience poking and general narrative intensity. We spent some nice times together, and it was all a bit like that bit in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid where they ride around on bicycles, laughing in the sunshine to a sensory backdrop of instagrammed Jimmy Webb and teal. At least, he took my point about full-bleed images. And proceeded to smash it out of the park when it came to it. To be fair, all the speakers, including another colleague of mine, Matt Radbourne, did an excellent job for a first speaking gig, but, you know, I only cried into my free white wine following Alex’s 20 minutes, because, like , THAT’S MY BOY! (he’s 33 you know. Yes, that’s what I said.)

Untapped was a hugely enjoyable event. It encouraged those with an idea to come forward and add to it a voice. That voice was their own. New, unheard, untapped. I played a very small part in contributing to the success of the evening. Sophie and Richard incepted, inspired and, um, envisioned, or something, the evening. If I had hats, I would take them off to them, suffice to say, I think I love them. Looking forward to looking forward to the next time.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A matter of doubt in UX


Here’s a caveat: I crowdsourced this topic and so I’m just fulfilling my side of that bargain. Here’s another caveat: I’ve had a couple of drinks and so I’m probably a bit shouty. I can provide more caveats. However, despite those caveats, I can vouch for the integrity of the words I’m typing here as the truth as I see it based on the experiences I’ve had and the work I’ve done. Which is about as far as I can trust anybody who talks about UX these days.

That’s not to say that those people who I follow, converse with, pay to see, acknowledge or otherwise reference as UX professionals can’t also vouch for the words they say and the positions they adopt and the propositions they make and the work the refer to. It’s just that I’ve no way of validating it. I personally know and work with a very small number of UX professionals, notwithstanding the ones who have passed me by in other jobs, countries and lives and it’s only that very small number that I can honestly say that when they tell me they’ve done something and that they learned something and that it might be useful to me that I know it to be true.

In of itself, that’s not really much of an issue. I love a case study. I love good examples. I love it when people describe to me a learning experience by way of exposing their own fallibility. I can grok all these things. I like ‘here’s what I did’. There’s a solidarity in that openness and a learning outcome for all of us. The truth is self-evident in the telling of the story, bourne of which is a mandate to formulate recommendation and proposition.

Where I’m able to give less credence is when I’m simply directed to a method or practice, a voice or opinion, which is dependent on an assumed qualification to do so. Even if I’m taken with the proposition, without qualification, I have to question the validity if I have absolutely no idea what you’ve done, what you do, or whether you’re any good at it. I end up applying that rule of doubt whether you’re relatively new to UX or whether you’ve been to every IA summit, like, ever, because it makes no difference to me if the perception of your authority is so very institutionalised that what you say must be true. Mostly, it just means that you can say it very well, and that’s all I can honestly evaluate.

All of which is, of course, a circular argument, since there is absolutely no reason why you should afford me the courtesy that I deny others: just to take my word for it. But next time somebody tells you that ‘failing is great practice’, take a moment to challenge that statement. Why is it great practice? Why should you believe them? Next time someone tells you that you that ‘waterfall is a dead model’, take a moment to challenge that statement. How can they justify that? What have they done to support that position? Next time somebody tells you that ‘you’ve defined UX incorrectly’, well, good luck with that one.

In the end, this is really a minor issue I’ve chosen to explode into some dribbling manifesto, but the central issue I still believe to be problematic. I hear you, I rather like you, but really, I don’t know you. It’s not a matter of trust. It’s a matter of doubt.