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.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Practice makes perfect UX at the UK UPA

Andy Budd - Perfect UX

I like UK UPA events. There’s something very reassuring about carrots in a bowl and speakers worth listening to. Last Thursday’s ‘Profiling the Perfect UX Practitioner’ was a particularly good event, pulling together a great list of UX practitioners to talk about UX practitioners to a room full of UX practitioners. While that sounds like it could be the point where we actually end up eating each other, it was actually the point at which we start questioning each other, which is always healthy.

There was no danger of it being a dull affair. Most of us have seen Andy Budd or Jason Mesut speak before and know that even though painful honesty borders on willful disruption it’s a dramatic tension that makes it not a little bit exciting. Put these menaces together with ‘not intentionally provided as a counterpoint but actually it works quite well that way’ Stavros Garzonis and Aline Baeck and you have a pretty good spread of disciplines, experiences and specialities that might, arguably, add up to the perfect UX practitioner, thereby rendering the whole evening redundant.

But that’s the thing. There’s not really any such thing as the perfect UX practitioner and we weren’t really there to try and determine what that is, any more than we were there to determine who has the brightest trousers, even though, as it happens, that was a really easy one to call. To summarise: it depends. With knobs on.

If there was a recurrent theme regarding the problem with defining pathways to becoming a better, more well-rounded UX practitioner, is was dichotomies. That is to say, perhaps it is the current open migration paths into UX from, say, engineering, development, psychology, for example, that are essentially dichotometrically opposed to the establishment of practitioner pathways since you have to already be pre-disposed within those disparate paradigms to an affinity with the values of user-centrednessness. Or something. I may have lost track there for a moment when I realised dichotmetrically opposed reminded me of thumbs. Anyway, there were dichotomies.

Also worthy of circular arguments was the notion of certification for UX professionals so that we all know who’s good at it. Notwithstanding the fact that none of can agree on what it is. Admirably, the German UPA chapter are looking seriously at certification, which, I’m sure, will be looked at closely to see how it might affect perception of value, ability or perfection in the long term. I asked Oliver what he thought of it. He kind of shrugged.

And it wouldn’t be a discussion about our ability to demonstrate capability without touching on, and then deep diving into, and ultimately wrestling naked in front of the fire about UX practitioner portfolios. Porfolios are good. If you think they’re good. Even though your good might not be my good. But let’s all agree they have value. In the way I value straight lines, but someone else values sketchy ones. You see. It depends. But let’s also agree that if you want an opinion on the basic thresholds of portfolio benchmarking and what, from sheer volume, might be considered the relative merits of showing deliverables vs. telling stories and demonstrating thinking, reacting, shifting, agiling, then Jason is the man to tell you to leave the wireframes at home.

Ultimately, the sum of the parts of a strong team are often what makes the whole of a perfect practioner and it’s being part of those teams that will most likely incubate the hard and soft skills required to effectively practice in the UX profession. There might be, and probably are, practitioners out there that come close to having it all, but you won’t be that person with 2 years in the industry and an impressive job title. That’s not to say that the perfect practitioner necessarily comes from the small pool of 10+ year UX veterans who like to remind you that they actually did the original user research on punched cards for jacquard looms or something, but, to be honest, longevity in the field simply affords you the benefit of experience. It’s hard to argue against it.

I enjoyed all the panellists. I enjoyed all the attendees. I even enjoyed sitting on the floor for most of the evening so I could take photos of Andy’s boots. My favourite moment? Grinning inanely while Andy ranted animatedly about how terrible the state of somethingorother was and how you should just forget about doing it when patently plenty of people in the audience were already doing it. My least favourite moment? Having to run off and leave everybody having a nice chat over fava beans and a nice chianti, because I had to rush to get a train to Norwich because we don’t all live in London you know.

Looking forward to the next one.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Careering around at the UK UXPA


“He’s actually really nice”

Notwithstanding the fact that any address that ends in ‘Canary Wharf’ seems to disappear into the Bemuser Triangle the closer I get to it and that on this occasion I wasn’t alone in trying to locate an enormous shiny building that was right in front of me, I made it along to the UK UXPA careers event yesterday at the Thomson Reuters building somewhere in, well, Canary Wharf, along with a number of extraordinary colleagues from Foolproof who I can only describe as infinitely more approachable than myself. And Matt.

I had initially registered as an attendee, just because I was interested in the event anyway, but somehow become part of the official delegation, which mostly meant I had to carry Karen’s popup banner from Goswell Road to Canary Wharf. Either way, I’d really come to attend the panel discussion with Leslie Fountain, Andy Budd, and the most charming man in the world™, Giles Colborne, who were going to have a stab at discussing the vagaries of UX in the boardroom and what that means to business, businesses, management, aspiring management, new hires, prospective new hires, clients, projects, practice, vision, values, mission, goals, and how things smell.

At the same time as the panel, there was to be several rounds of speed-dating for prospective employers/recruiters and candidates/people of interest, which, as it turns out, would consist of some rather loud whistling, CVs, portfolios, elevator pitches, business cards, raised eyebrows, knowing glances, ticks in boxes and, by the end of the evening, more or less passing out on the corporate carpet. Taking part in one of these events requires a strong constitution and boundless enthusiasm. I wasn’t part of it.

And if that wasn’t enough, there was also some splendid UX booth kinda action in the main foyer, where I noticed Jason Mesut was delivering the kind of folio advice that can leave unsuspecting hopefuls in that curious state of super encouraged and mostly terrified about their future. That man knows what he’s talking about, children.

And if that that wasn’t enough wasn’t enough, there was more pork product than I think I’ve ever seen in one place and buckets of cold Prosecco, which would later be the cause of my Downfall-like self-castigation wandering rather too close to very deep water whilst frantically searching for the underground station that would take me to the train back to Norwich via Stratford, the official travel centre of the London 2012 Olympic park in association with A SHOP or something. For UX events at Canary Wharf are not your UX events in Shoreditch. I mean, I like hot lofts and crisps and everything, but corporations do hospitality as a core practice and they mostly do it very well. Thompson Reuters didn’t buck that trend.

But back to the panel. Leslie opened proceedings with some discussion points about what it means to provide leadership in UX businesses and, specifically, used the example of how this is manifest at Foolproof. Core to her proposition is that vision and values are critical in describing what your business is all about and enables internal stakeholders and staff to deliver toward that and understand why they do what they do in context of what that means to the company. Crucially, it also describes to the outside world – clients, customers, partners, candidates, friends – what the culture of the company is, what their aims are, and how they intend to pursue their goals, so that it becomes a shared imperative at the point where relationships are formed and ongoing engagements are managed. In other words, it enables you to say “this is who we are and this is where we’re going. If you like the look of that, lets have a conversation”.

I like Leslie. I like hearing her talk. I like her style. We’re going to do a double act.

What followed Leslie’s opener was a nicely animated discussion, which, in a nice touch, had Andy, Leslie and the most charming man in the world™;, Giles, perched on stools, like some awesome UX Westlife. There was even a spare stool next to Andy and I was sorely tempted to join them for an impromptu cover of a Jared Spool ballad or something, but resigned myself to kicking things off with the first question, which went something like “yeah, you say vision and values but really, people just ignore that stuff, innit?” Needless to say, it was pointed out that yes, that might often be true, but what we try and do is…

I only trailed off there because I can’t remember the answer correctly. But over the next 40 minutes or so, an awful lot of sense was spoken. I was particularly drawn to the passion and sincerity in Andy’s descriptions of how he makes his business decisions, runs his company and decides what to do and why. He was very honest about the learnings made from his mistakes and how he used those to make better decisions and, in particular, learn how to say no, which was a bit of recurrent theme. As ever, Giles was thoroughly entertaining, but because of the most charming man in the world™ thing, every time he spoke, I just kind a gawped at him like a headlit rabbit as the words came out and consequently missed a lot of what he actually said. He does tell a good story though.

And then I was done. I did get to speak to a number of people during the course of the evening who commented, as I felt, that this wasn’t like a normal UX event, because you get to speak to each other throughout, rather than at the end, which was all very convivial. I hope those bright-faced young prospectives got as much out of it as the gurn-faced old miseries (that’s me, by the way, just to be clear) did. Curiously, I also had a couple of people make the comment at the beginning of this post. That was about Andy. I’ve no idea how they might have thought otherwise.

Thanks to the UK UXPA for organising. Canary Wharf is sometimes a bit wrong, but last night there was a little place in the middle where everything was right.


Monday, June 11, 2012

Waiting for the train that never comes

hepworth 1

"Here’s my platform. I’m stood on my platform, waiting for the train. But the harder I wait the less the train comes. It’s a paradox. The train will never come if I wait for it, however hard I wait.

So I go to my park. Here’s my park. It’s got grass and trees and things. There’s places I can go and just not worry about trains. So I stand on a pole and start not to worry too much about trains. Soon I’m not worrying about trains at all.

And then my feet leave my pole and I ‘m lifted to the sky. I’m flying. I look down at my park and there are other people in my park. They’re not worried about trains. They’re just doing whatever it is they do.

Before I know it, I’m way, way up in the sky. I’m so far from worrying about trains that I’m playing with the planes. The planes are orange and Easy. Not like the trains.

Oh, the trains. I need to get a train. I’ll never get a train up here. I need to get a train. We all need to get a train. Where are the trains?

So I’m back at my platform. I’m stood on my platform, waiting for the train. But the harder I wait the less the train comes. I know there are trains. I’ve been on trains before. They took me right where I wanted to go. But there’s no train here. Maybe I’m waiting too hard.

Wait, here comes a train! I think that’s a train I can use. Let…Oh. It’s gone. Still, there’ll probably be another one. You know, wait hard enough for one train and they all come at once.

<pause>

No. No more trains.

But wait. It’s not just me. There’s other people here waiting for a train. Other people trying too hard to wait for a train. I wonder if they have a garden? Or a pole? I wonder if they fly? I wonder what kind of trains they’ve been on? So we talk. We talk about gardens. We talk about poles. We talk about flying. And we talk about trains. It turns out we’re all waiting too hard for our trains and those trains just never seem to come. Maybe we should stop waiting so hard.

And you know, as we’re talking…a train arrives. We’re not sure where it’s going, but its there, all the same.

And then another arrives. We’re not really sure where that’s going either, but it looks kind of interesting.

And more and more trains arrive. Until there’s so many trains that we just don’t know which ones to ride on. But it’s alright. Because we’ll just try a few and see where they go. We don’t have to go all the way, but it might be interesting so see what happens. How about we just take a train each? We could meet back here and tell each other how it was. If we really like one, let’s take it all the way together.

Here’s my platform. I’m waiting for the train. But I’m not waiting too hard. Seems to me, the harder you wait the less the train comes. Anyway, my friends will be here soon. We’ll not wait too hard and just see what happens."

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Why I submit

A couple of years ago I’d not spoken out loud to a room of professionals that I didn’t actually work with notwithstanding the fact that I have worked some places where there was about 75,000 people on a WebEx patiently waiting for you to load up those slides about the global web platform that your boss said was going to completely change the business but which you seem to have mislaid or simply written over with an amusing powerpoint checklist for what colleagues should do when they’re stuck in the corridor between the buildings on campus when security have gone home and your only recourse is the fire alarm.

In the last couple of years, however, I’ve been throwing stuff up all over whatever UX calls for submissions are available just to try and get my face in front of a room of professionals and talk about thinking time in experience design or designing mobile wallets or my face or my bike or how to design for a room full of stakeholders keenly anticipating a shift in their business model based on a globalisation proposal you’ve just lost.

Some of what I throw up sticks, some doesn’t. Well, a lot doesn’t actually, but when it does it’s pretty exciting. And then I just have to say stuff and be interesting and actionable and have a joke or two and preferably a drink or two as well and if somebody comes up to me afterwards and tells me they liked it and it was interesting and that actually it was really relevant to what they are doing and could we talk some more about it, then that is what it’s all about. And that’s why I do it.

I’ve been around a while and I’ve done some interesting stuff and maybe if you’ve made the effort to come and see what I’m talking about and I’ve made the effort to come and talk to you then we’ve already got something in common and it could be the start of a beautiful relationship where we can think about changing the world through design one conversation at a time. Or you’ll think I’m a bit of an arse. Either way, I’m not going to pretend to you that I’ve redefined user experience or discovered how to bend the UX time continuum with my new method or practice[tm]. To be honest, I don’t know what I’m talking about half the time. If you’ve seen me facilitate a workshop, you’ll know what I mean. But I do at least know what I’ve done and I can tell you about that. You might have done it too. You might not have. But while I’m up here and I’m telling you about it through the haze of a slide transition and a stumbling near-dad-dance in front of a projector disco light, if I see you curling a smile and nodding your head slightly or even inexplicably writing something down, then, you’re welcome. It was a pleasure.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Your content strategy is brilliant and hopeless

I don’t believe there’s anyone out there who has put two words together that have been published on a web site since 1993 that hasn’t at some point sat at their desk and typed into a strategy document ‘write once, publish everywhere’ or ‘centralised writing, distributed reading’ or ‘write once, publish many’ or ‘global content, local readers’ or ‘one repository, many devices’ or ‘my CMS brings all the boys to the yard and damn right it’s content framework means it’s deployed on multiple platforms and viewports with coherency and efficiency and is better than yours by which I mean maximises ROI and provides the ideal user experience about which I could teach you but I’d have to charge’ or something like that.

Defining a content strategy that maximises ROI on publishing for a business isn’t difficult. Once you’ve distilled the distribution components of a publishing system into the dark matter of a CMS then everything else kind of gets sucked into the inevitability vacuum. You just need to draw some concentric circles around it and randomly place some google image swipes of devices and screens and that stock photo of a globe with a URL wrapped around it that says THIS IS WHAT THE INTERNET IS and you’re away. If you like, you can project the cost benefit to the organisation of rolling out said strategy by Q4 and streamlining your processes, synchronizing your publishing and automating your workflows. In the long term the ROI is massive. Like, a huge number.

Trust me, I’ve written that strategy a few times. It’s brilliant.

But it’s also hopeless. Content strategy, however perfectly formed, nearly always necessitates business change in order that is delivers on its promises. And businesses don’t like to change. They like to save money. They like to be efficient. But they rarely actually honestly have the ability to change the way they operate around a strategy that makes their content delivery scaleable, manageable, responsive, adaptive, data-driven, intelligent, profitable, better. Not because they don’t think your strategy isn’t brilliant and that it will indeed bring all those boys to the yard, but because they’re simply unable to overcome the festering delineations within their own business that preclude agility. I mean, if you could just change your strategy to make it work for the product division, because, you know, I think they have data or something, then maybe we could do a pilot, you know, phase one, but we don’t have anything to do with the service division, I mean, they’re a separate part of the business and we don’t even know who they are, although Mike in corporate does know the manager over there and Mike owns all that corporate stuff, like, um, I dunno, press releases and things. Can we do press releases? They already have a CMS. Maybe we can use that, etc…

Defining a content strategy is rarely a problem. Facilitating business change nearly always is. If you’re not talking to the person who can truly bring about that change, you’re quacking into a void.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Watching the prospectives at London IA

I was lucky enough to talk at the May London IA event a few days ago. Even better than that, I got to share the stage, well, I say stage, I shared the bit of floor at the front of the loft, with the most charming man in the world, Giles Colborne, and the most charming woman in the world, Johanna Kollmann. Unfortunately for them, they had to share the small walk around in front of the projector area with the most charmless dancing dad Soho misfit in the world, me. I’m prone to a bit of self-depreciation, but really, it was as much as I could do to breathe in for 30 minutes while I was up there before collapsing into a Stella at The Endurance and a subsequent face full of Ginsters on the steps of Centre Point like a lost corporate team-builder from the M4 corridor.

We’d gathered for a redux of the IA Summit, which took place in New Orleans earlier in the year. Johanna and I had presented at the summit at the same time - 8:30 on Sunday morning – and hadn’t seen each other speak, so it was great for us, and Giles had very kindly offered/volunteered/I dunno, been threatened with something to do a recap of a few of the highlights from the conference. It was going to be a good night even if nobody else turned up.

But turn up they did, and based on a quick show of the hands that people showed when asked, it seems that the vast majority of the attendees had never been to a London IA event before, which was very inspiring. Either that or they just didn’t like Martin waving his iPad at them saying “who’s been to one these before? Hmm? Matthew and I organize these you know! THEY’RE FREE!’ Either way, a lot of new faces is, to me, a very encouraging thing. Let’s be honest, you can go to events in London that are the physical manifestation of the echo chamber and although the people are extraordinarily nice and I would like many of them to be real friends that know what the sound of my voice is like, these events are excellent places to learn things you don’t know and see people you may have read say things out loud. Far be it from me to sound like some kind of curious Werthers Original style UX granddad shedding a small tear into my slippers when the young uns look up at the stage that isn’t a stage with those beady eyes of youth, pondering your gibberish like some unbounded grasshoppers, but it’s encouraging to see them sat in that loft, just BEING KEEN. *sniff*

So thank you to Martin and Matthew for organising and inviting me along, and thank you to Giles and Johanna for being charming and fascinating, and thank you to everybody who turned up and was polite and keen and asked lovely questions, and thank you to the weather for hailing on my legs as I cowered under a newsagent awning just before arriving, and thank you for listening, etc.

Slides from the IA Summit (On Slideshare):
Making sense of messy problems: Systems thinking for multi-channel UX by Johanna Kollmann
Designing the Mobile Wallet: A Case Study by Tim Caynes

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Global, local, desktop, mobile

About a million years ago I wrote the web globalisation strategy for a large corporation that included, variously, authoring and production strategy, globalisation, localisation and internationalisation requirements, data architecture, content management platform definition, functional specifications, business requirements, lots of pictures of concentric circles, some arrows, some double-byte character sets, search integration, all sorts of stuff. I mean, I didn’t write all of it. No, actually, I did write all of it. And it was pretty good. But it never happened.

It never happened because the content strategy that supported a ‘write once, publish everywhere’ model was simply too inflexible for stakeholders to sign up to. The idea is perfectly simple. The execution is pretty doable. We could build the platform, we could integrate localisation workflows, we could support content authors with different levels of scope and authority, we could distribute that authoring, we could centralise that authoring, we could mash everything together into a globalised online presence, and Bob would indeed be your uncle.

However, different stakeholders want different things. Different customers want different things. Different users want different things. So, what’s good for the North American goose isn’t necessarily good for the Korean gander. What’s good for the North American buck isn’t necessarily good for the French doe. What’s good for the North American seahorse isn’t necessarily good for the Australian, well, seahorse. And the subtleties of those differences are what led the program to dribble to an apologetic unconclusion. We simply couldn’t define a content strategy that was flexible enough to assemble and distribute a globalised site, based on the centralised, corporate brand and product requirements and the business needs of the content experts and marketeers in the countries. It was easier for the countries to roll their own. So that’s what they did. Using the platform we built to support the central content model. They just created their own instances and copy and pasted the bits they needed from .com, creating silos and duplicates all over the place thankyouverymuch.

It’s that difficulty I witnessed in the global vs. local model that appears to be a central (pun intended) issue with desktop vs. mobile. Well, ok, it’s one of the central issues. I mean, it’s a bit of an issue. IT’S AN ISSUE.

There’s no reason why technically we can’t support the authoring, publishing and distribution of content and services that can provide a coherent experience across all kinds of screens and devices. Responsive design is a method. Having less stuff is a method. Having smaller stuff is probably a method. But for a properly scalable, flexible and efficient operation, it’s just not going to happen unless all stakeholders are in agreement about the content strategy. And when I say stakeholders, I mean anyone who owns, manages, authors or consumes that content. As a content owner, you might not care about comments disappearing from an article when you read it on a smaller viewport. As a commenter, you’ve just been slapped with the wet fish of ‘fuck you’ simply because you’re reading the article on something that fits in your palm. And that’s why content strategy is hard and why rendering isn’t the whole answer.

I’m not proposing a solution, I just see parallels with the globalisation efforts I went through years ago. I don’t think anyone has ever really got globalisation right. I’m not sure anyone will ever really get content strategy for the wider web right. But it is fascinating seeing the component parts evolve that might make it happen.

Jennifer might enjoy this Global Web Programs presentation (PDF 5mb) that talks about the common web platform. Fun times.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Being your own stock library

I have a tendency to fill presentation materials with pictures of myself. This is because I’m a hopelessly deluded narcissist. It’s also because its free, readily available and in high resolution. There might even be something relevant to the point I’m making, although I can always change the point I’m making if the photo is better than the point I’m making. I’m joking.

It’s not only pictures of myself, of course. Over a number of years I’ve built up enough photos of post-it notes taken at 45 degrees with a depth of field the width of a Sharpie to fill Slideshare. I’ve also got a folders overflowing with close-ups of whiteboard erasers, sketches of mobile sites that will never get built and abstract blocks of colour that I think will represent a particular mood when I’m stood in front of it telling some inane story about a workshop where a client lost a shoe or something.

And naturally, I’ve got a whole arsenal of photos where people I work with have been subjected to embarrassing manipulations and positioning to get the perfect shot that represents someone thinking about something really hard while half-looking at a screen but being really attentive to a random interloper who is being shown something really very interesting on that screen and very possibly pointing at it.

And handshakes. And headsets. And URLs spiralling around a globe.

Maybe I don’t have those last ones. But suffice to say, I’ve got a supply of stuff that I can use, rather than hunting down and trawling through stock sites for hours until you really do want to poke your eyes out with a kitten in a bucket. And if I don’t have what I want, I can often just go ahead and create something specifically for the thing I’m working on. This doesn’t always work if the thing I’m working on is something about, say, camels, but it’s great when I need something which represents ‘someone looking like an arse’.

In the end, it’s a personal preference, and a convenient, cheap way to add something of interest to something which is probably quite uninteresting. It’s not for everyone, but then, neither am I.

You’re more than welcome you use anything I have to add to your own stuff. There a load of stuff all creative commons licensed and available on flickr.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

I’m bored of this UX event


If this is you, get out of the way. I’m off to the IA Summit next week and it’s the highlight of my year. Honestly. If you want to bring your event-weary commentary along with you and bemoan the fact that it wasn’t like it was 10 years ago then if you don’t mind having that conversation with yourself that would be lovely. I don’t know if I mentioned, but it’s the highlight of my year. Some people never get to go to events at all.

Really, I’ve nothing wrong with some kind of constructive criticism of events and conferences, and that has appropriate channels, to make sure it gets back to the organisers. You know, the event organisers. That small army of people who took upon themselves 11 months ago to make the event in 11 months the most awesome event in eleven month’s time it can possibly be notwithstanding the fact that actually no we’re not getting paid to put this thing together and we possibly didn’t realise 11 months ago what a monumental task we agreed to be a part of and now it’s upon us we could literally weep with the joy and relief of letting loose the staggering waif of the fawny event calf as it teeters into the forest of discovery like some conference Bambi, slipping and sliding on the ice of enlightenment, growing, living, flourishing and maturing into that majestic stag of experience, standing proudly atop mount adversity, barking, or whatever stags do, I AM THE EVENT STAG, HEAR ME BARK, OR WHATEVER IT IS I DO. What you probably don’t want to hear at that point is “Yeah, that event stag isn’t as good as last year’s event stag. It’s a bit shit. I’m going #sightseeing. Who’s in?”.

If you really are having a bad experience at your event, conference, meetup, bootcamp, jam, summit, unevent, unconference, unmeetup, unbootcamp, unjam, unsummit, (unjam is a word? Who knew?), then I’m sorry about that. Not all events are as advertised. Not all events run smoothly. Not all events meet expectations. But it might be just you. Well, maybe you and a couple of others. Alright, maybe it’s really bad. But if you’re quietly snarking at the back, that’s fine, I can deal with that. I mean, it’s annoying and once I’ve noticed you doing that I can’t unnotice you doing that and you’ve already planted a seed of distraction that will grow like a triffid in my subconscious, like some venomous metaphor for something really distracting and vegetative. However, in a parallel universe-made-the-opposite-of-parallel, it’s now pretty much alright to do that snarking out loud. And when I say out loud, I obviously don’t actually mean out loud. I mean on the #backchannel, which isn’t a backchannel at all, but a Norwegian bridge that small children skip lightly across to get from #whatisthis?land to #Ilovethis!land with faces that radiate with pure delight, but being a Norwegian bridge, thereunder treads a recalcitrant troll, lobbing poo bags at minors squawking BLAH BLAH BLAH I’M BETTER THAN THIS. Even worse, some trolls have got so good at lobbing their poo bags of derision that they can make them stick when they’re not even at the event.

You take the joy out of it. Stop it. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Ride the lightning

Notwithstanding a pithy reference to a metal experience that reminds me of the second half of the vinyl rack at the record shop where I used to work, tonight I rode the lightning at the event that uses the name but in no way conjures up images of axes and diminished 3rds because it’s got UX at the end and so rather suggests there might be crumpers and iphones and projectors and bottles of water and stuff which there was, for tonight was lightning UX and I spake of random percentages, gears of fear and communicating only through michael jackson thriller dance moves. There may have also been occasional references to mobile wallet design challenges amongst which and of I mused upon that included cognition of conceptual architectures, complicated contexts of use, and user confidences in and around the whole bloody wallet thing what they don’t even get ffs. Grrr.

I was, however, merely one of the peas in a UX pentapod that had been popped forth to live and breathe the warm air of a university basement and deliver a missive so sweet that it must just be our very last thing we do in a 10 minute burst looked upon by the sparkling eyes of the eversokeen. Within the delicate constraints of the framework – like rolling down the grassy hill of a summer’s day, passing the baton of freshly plucked UX grass between us like it might be the day all summery rolling down hill baton-passing days might be like – the five of us took that which was close to our hearts and set it into the ether upon the wings of hope where, in my case, it kind of crashed about a bit in a series of profane outbursts vaguely resembling a topic whereupon it flew too close to the flame of relevance and singed it’s little wings a bit.

In other words, I talked some stuff about designing mobile wallets and I made a lot of numbers up and the four others speakers on the bill were very good and actually when we opened it up to questions that got quite interesting and if anybody wants to ask me about the perception of flawed security models in the deployment of mobile payment frameworks or how you draw a thing which says PAY NOW then I’m more than happy to follow up with you. Point your stick toward @timcaynes. Come see me at the IA summit. I am UX.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Hacking NFC

Not strictly speaking hacking the protocol or platform or whatever you want to call it, because that might require rather more technical knowledge than I have left and implies something that is probably illegal, but hacking, in terms of using the near field communication infrastructure to muck about and produce something akin to a chocolate fireguard that you can show other people and say ‘look! I did a chocolate fireguard!’, as they add the finishing touches to their ‘tap-to-space travel’ demo.

Last week, the UK’s first NFC hack event was launched in Norwich. It’s a pretty ad hoc affair, under the Hot Source banner, that Proxama are supporting by making their NFC technology platform available to anybody who wanted to enter a team. All you have to bring to the party is your creative minds and a willingness to stand in front of the other 17 teams at the end of the month and show them what you’ve managed to build. And show them you can. With an NFC-enabled phone, access to Proxama’s hardware and software, tags and tech, you really can build an NFC-enabled technology solution. You just write that HTML5 stuff that displays a monkey, loyalty card, free gift or whatever, when your programmed NFC tag is tapped with your phone. Of course, since your team defines the experience, owns the code, has the idea in the first place, you can do much more than monkeys. If you want to write a bunch of HTML that’s loaded in webkit, or the Proxama app, and then have that web content do something else, like, say, integrate with your ecommerce platform, turn on the lights, leverage location services on your device and send a message to the queen specifying exactly where the bloody cake is to be delivered already, then you can do that, just with a tap of your phone on the programmable tag.

You see what’s possible here? It’s not just about using your phone to pay for a banana. I mean, the platform could support that if you wanted to do that, but, like, you can already do that. The idea of the hack event is that armed with the technology platform, you create something new, innovative, quite possibly ridiculous, but definitely original and potentially commercially viable. And, if it is, all well and good. Take that idea away with you and make it commercially viable. Proxama aren’t going to steal it, it’s your IP. Do with it what you will. What the event is about is demonstrating what you can do with the NFC platform. And I’m leading the Flow team. There’s also a Foolproof team, but, you know, I don’t give them much hope for winning the competition. I mean, I can’t see how anyone is going to top my shark tank escape game. It’s simple – you get dropped in a shark tank with your NFC phone and have to tap on the hidden tags to open the escape hatch. You either tap all the tags, in the right order, within the time, or, well, the demo gets really interesting. I haven’t decided which team member is going to demo it yet, mind.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

I don’t need your design process

Sometimes, you question whether you’ve just been winging it for the last ten years. That’s usually when you’re surrounded by people you’re supposed to have an affinity with, but they’re all talking about something you think you should probably understand but quite obviously don’t. Worse than that, perhaps you’re supposed to actually be doing it, since, well, surely that’s what you do. That’s what I felt like a couple of hours ago.

I once applied for a senior user experience designer position for a software company in Cambridge. The only sticking point, in their mind, was that I didn't have any Agile experience. I won’t labour that point, because I have already, suffice to say, despite my protestations that it really wouldn’t be an issue, because I’ll still be able to function if for some reason we have to stand up on a Tuesday morning, it was the one thing I couldn’t honestly say I could tick off their list. I couldn’t adopt their process. I didn’t get the job.

This is ridiculous to me. As a designer, I tend to go through a process. I tend to take a problem, try to understand it, and try to solve it. By design. There’s usually more to it than that, but, really, not much. I’ll put my hand up right now. I could not articulate the difference between waterfall and agile, if questioned. I’m not even sure if those things stand up to comparison on common criteria. I’ve seen the lean UX manifesto and been talked through it a few times, but it’s still just the good bits of UX, without the bad bits. If you want to throw in kano, keynote, kelloggs, that’s fine, but it won’t change the way I approach a problem. I might find that some of the tactical methods are useful, helpful, more efficient. I might loosely adopt some strategies and roll them into a framework suitable for the task at hand. I might find that faced with a hill, just skiing down it is the most appropriate thing to do.

But I won’t pick a process. I’m fine with the one I’ve got. It’s not wilful. I don’t doubt your process is appropriate, effective and successful. I just don’t need it. But thanks for sharing.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A word for a thousand pictures

Well, maybe not a thousand, but a few. Maybe a hundred. And more than just one word. I mean, we’re wont to drivel on about pictures telling a thousand words and that’s pretty useful when we sit in a box all day and sketch things out and then justify it to project managers by saying that it’s critical to visualise and that it helps tell the story and the client will respond, like, totally strongly to that

Except it’s not always true. I’ve spent all day in a box sketching things out that, like, a client will totally respond strongly to, but they simply don’t tell the whole story. They don’t replace a thousand words. There needs to be some words.

And it’s those words which actually articulate the human behaviours and cognitive processes that I think really need to be understood, because it’s those that make the difference in this case. It’s about the emotional response and what that can tell us with regard to the design decisions we make. The pictures are nice, but on their own, however much I stand in front of them and wave my arms around saying things like “this totally expresses their engagement franchise model”, they don’t provide the full contextual description. I can’t have a conversation with the clients about how their customers are feeling and without demonstrating that, I’m not really going to honestly say I’m designing for a great experience. I’m just drawing good pictures.