Archive — 2019

Author of Practical Empathy Indi Young on going deeper than insightsCarrie Neilldscout

Indi Young illustration

It’s always great to see advice from Indi Young. Here are tips on how to better identify and synthesise patterns in qualitative data.

…when you’re looking at data, don’t group things together by noun. Group them together by verb. I’ve done a lot of work with the healthcare industry, and one thing I often see research teams do is bring together insights that are all about a noun — here is all of the data that we got about how people feel about the doctors. But when you do that the intent behind what people are really saying ends up all over the place.

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Photo — 2019-08-18

Continuum by Bridget Riley

Continuum — Bridget Riley — on exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery.

It’s Bridget Riley’s only ever 3D work. Entering inside it, I perhaps understood why. It wasn’t quite tall enough to fully immerse me.

I highly recommend you visit this if you can. It is a very comprehensive exhibition of her career, spanning more than 70 years, including paintings from this year.

Bridget Riley study

The room containing her black-and-white works of the 1960s are of course a highlight. I am constantly in awe of how these static paintings can appear to be moving at great speed.

Bridget Riley studies

But I was also fascinated by the room containing her studies, where you can see her working out how to create these incredible mind-bending paintings.

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Can everyone be excellent?Alfie Kohn

A very good piece about why fears around grade inflation and the like are spurious. Even if everyone meets high standards, people continue to call for the standards to be made higher still. Moreover, people exhibit a damaging compulsion to rank.

But boy, do we love to rank. Worse, we create artificial scarcity such as awards — distinctions manufactured out of thin air specifically so that some cannot get them. Every contest involves the invention of a desired status where none existed before and none needs to exist. This creates an adversarial mentality that makes productive collaboration less likely, encourages gaming the system, and leads all concerned to focus not on meaningful improvement but on trying to outdo (and perhaps undermine) everyone else.

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Note — 2019-08-13

Dark mode

I have now implemented a dark mode for this website. Many operating systems are now offering dark mode as a preference. If you have dark mode switched on, this website now displays in a fetching darker colour scheme.

Media queries to the rescue!

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Photo — 2019-08-13

Bowl of white chocolate Coco Pops, looking just like Rice Krispies

White chocolate Coco Pops are the greatest/worst invention because it looks just like you’re eating Rice Krispies.

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Albon replaces Gasly at Red Bull for Belgian Grand PrixKeith CollantineRaceFans

At this stage, I wonder how Helmut Marko gets away with this. His driver/vanity programme is a monumental failure. Pierre Gasly’s demotion to Toro Rosso after only 12 races is just the latest in a trail of destruction wreaked upon drivers ever since Red Bull Junior Team’s inception.

At Toro Rosso he joins Daniil Kvyat, who has also been rejected by Red Bull’s programme multiple times, only to be invited back due to the scheme’s utter dearth of talent.

Meanwhile, Red Bull lack the patience required to build their drivers’ confidence and skill.

Luke Smith’s tweet sums it up neatly:

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The birth of InterCarmel DeAmicisFigma

Inter typeface detail

I’ve been using the Inter typeface on this blog (and other things) for 1½ years now.* I love it.

Rasmus [Andersson, the designer of Inter] did some research and experimentation and eventually realized there was no free, high-quality text typefaces for computer UIs. That felt backwards to him given how type heavy many UIs are. So he set to work creating one and released the first set of glyphs in August 2017. He’s been iterating on it continuously ever since.

What I really admire about Inter is the way it looks brilliant at both small sizes and large sizes. There really are not many typefaces you can say that about.

It also feels like it has genuinely been designed for our time, while seeming familiar like Helvetica or Univers. While those classics fall down somewhat as digital typefaces (no surprise given how old they are), Inter manages to improve on other digital-first typefaces like Roboto.

Incredibly, while Roboto has the might of Google behind it, Inter is one person’s side project. I have a lot of admiration for this project.

Now, if only it was available on Google Fonts

* Yes, that was just an excuse to use the ½ glyph.

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Bottas considering ‘plan B and C’ if Mercedes drop himDieter Rencken and Keith CollantineRaceFans

I fear the writing is on the wall for Valtteri Bottas. It was bad enough that Toto Wolff has now explicitly said he’s considering replacing Bottas with Esteban Ocon.

But when even Bottas himself is talking about having a plan B and plan C, surely the game is up. It’s not just the fact that he’s considering it. That’s only sensible for anyone to do.

But in talking about it, he is exposing his weakness. A more driven individual (even if he is talking to other teams behind the scenes) would surely still say he is fully committed to Mercedes and, determined to retain his drive, and not thinking about anything else.

Talking like this just makes Bottas seem like he’s already thrown in the towel.

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Note — 2019-08-07

Is there a way to force all mobile apps to open web URLs in my actual browser of choice, instead of the crappy WebView they make you use? This is one thing I am truly fed up with now.

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Card sorting has informed a new information architecture for Learn coursesWebsite and Communications Blog

Results of the card sorting study

How we used card sorting to help us devise a consistent information architecture for Learn VLE courses at the University of Edinburgh.

775 students participated in the study — and no two students submitted the same card sort. This highlights the great challenge faced by the Learn Foundations project in attempting to create a more standardised template that meets the wide variety of needs across the University.

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Note — 2019-08-02

My Omnichord normally gathers dust in the corner of a room. So when someone retweeted into my timeline Karine Polwart asking if anyone in Edinburgh had an Omnichord she could borrow for some filming, I was happy to help, and to see the Omnichord out of its case for a change!

It makes its little appearance in this video for her cover of Chance by the Big Country.

This is part of her new album of Scottish covers, Scottish Songbook. It’s out today on lovely red vinyl.

My name on the back sleeve of Scottish Songbook

I had always wondered what it would take to get a ‘thank you’ on the back of an album. Now I know. 🙂

Hopefully one day I’ll get round to playing the Omnichord more often myself…

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The one thing about your spouse’s personality that really affects your careerAndrew O’ConnellHarvard Business Review

Two pairs of sandals

It has been found that having a conscientious spouse helps lead to an increase in income, number of promotions and job satisfaction. Why?

First, conscientious spouses handle a lot of household tasks, freeing employees to concentrate on work (“When you can depend on someone, it takes pressure off of you,” Solomon told me).

Or, put another way, if someone else is doing all the dirty work at home, it gives you the privilege to focus on your career.

I wonder if there’s research to say what the effect is if both people in a relationship share household duties equally. Hopefully if both partners are conscientious, both feel the benefits in their careers.

Support each other. Teamwork! 🐌🐢

You can support your spouse in supporting you. If you depend on his or her reliability, diligence, and goal orientation, don’t take those traits for granted. Maybe you’ve been standing heroically at the bow for so long that you’ve forgotten how much effort it takes to row. So sit down and row for a while.

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Creating the perfect UX workshop bag@kyecassUX Collective

✔️ Love stationery
✔️ Love workshops

This is a great guide to workshop essentials. I’m impressed that this kit contains a wider variety of materials, and yet seems so much smaller than the workshop bag we use at work. Maybe we rely too much on mountains of sticky notes!

I’d be tempted to add planning poker cards to this list. Planning poker is usually thought of as a technique for estimating work in agile projects. But it can also be used as a prioritisation technique in workshops.

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The paint-scraping myth: Why the story behind Mercedes’ special livery isn’t trueKeith Collantine and Dieter RenckenRaceFans

Mercedes' special livery - halo detail

Spoilsports! 😉

In all seriousness, I’m impressed at the effort Mercedes have put in to celebrating 125 years in motorsport and their 200th F1 race.

While having all the team personnel (including mechanics!) dressed up in 1950s-style outfits looks fun, it surely must be distracting. Watching the mechanics working on the cars in the garage with their baggy overalls dangling all over the place, I had to think some of these mechanics must find it all annoying.

Lewis Hamilton certainly seemed to find his special gloves annoying during free practice 3 yesterday when he tetchily requested his normal gloves as the session was about to start.

As for the livery, Toto Wolff said:

“I can tell you it’s definitely not making the car lighter… In all the briefing sheets prior to this weekend the engineers pointed out ‘too heavy stickers’…”

I’m sure it’s a small thing, but I’ve always wondered if thick stickers have an effect on aerodynamics. If you look at the photos on the RaceFans article, you can actually see how thick some of the decals are.

I’m sure they wouldn’t do it if it was a problem. But surely thick stickers would be more of a factor than matt paint?

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What is co-design?Kelly Ann McKercherBeyond Sticky Notes

Venn diagram describing co-production as an overlap of co-planning, co-design, co-evaluation and co-delivery

I’ve been thinking and reading a lot about co-design recently (as well as doing some of it too). This website, Beyond Sticky Notes, has provided me with even more food for thought.

I am particularly struck by the table describing various approaches from transactional to transformational. In this model, “Anything ‘centred’ — human, user, patient etc.” is little better than “Designer as expert”. Meanwhile, what I thought of as co-design may actually be more like participatory design. There’s so much more to do.

But one line of warning is familiar to any good user experience practitioner, and is worth repeating until the cows come home.

Co-design builds long term commitment. By contrast, consultation often gives the illusion we’ve bought people on board — only to have them then fall overboard. With consultation, we pay later — often in costly, public and damaging ways.”

Make sure you also see Mindsets for co-design, another enlightening article on how to do co-design better.

This website is in support of a book due to be published in 2020. I am now looking forward to it.

Thanks to Alison Wright who retweeted the latter article and brought it to my attention.

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Apple contractors ‘regularly hear confidential details’ on Siri recordingsAlex HernThe Guardian

Apple device with Siri activated

Apple contractors regularly hear confidential medical information, drug deals, and recordings of couples having sex, as part of their job providing quality control, or “grading”, the company’s Siri voice assistant, the Guardian has learned.

Looks like Apple’s big claims on privacy are — like most things from Apple — a superficial marketing line.

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RainbowBattles

Mirrored cover

Their single Atlas may have got the most attention, but for me it was Rainbow that was the centrepiece of Battles’ extraordinary 2007 album Mirrored. It mixed cartoonish melodies with prog rock hardness.

I first came across Battles on the release of EP C/B EP, a compilation of their early EPs. Hearing SZ2 for the first time was hugely exciting. It felt like exactly the music I was looking for all along, without ever knowing it.

So even though Mirrored was their first album, it already represented a surprising change in direction. The chin-stroking post-rock had been superseded by Pinky and Perky vocals.

It was confusing. But listening to it for a second time, it felt as vital as their early material. In time, more so.

Their live performances were genuinely mind-boggling. They did things with live loops and sampling in ways that no-one else dared.

At the height of their powers, Battles made music in a way no-one else was making it. Watching them live was like watching four people walking a tightrope simultaneously. It could go wrong at any moment, and watching them push themselves and cope with it or recover from going wrong was a marvel.

Brian Eno counted himself as a fan:

When you see a band you really like, the reason you really like them is because you wish you’d had that idea. And I saw them and thought, “dammit, why didn’t I think of that?”

Have a spare ten minutes? Treat yourself to the slowed down version someone’s uploaded to YouTube.

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The fate of the Tories now rests with a new leader — Jo Swinson of the Liberal DemocratsStephen BushNew Statesman

Jo Swinson waving

Why the new Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson may be more pivotal to the future of the Conservatives than Boris Johnson is.

[W]hile the Liberal Democrat revival is taking Labour’s votes, it is costing the Conservatives more seats. Of the 82 seats that the Lib Dems hope to make their major targets, just three — Sheffield Hallam, Leeds North West and Streatham — were won by Labour in 2017.

On Jo Swinson, for what it’s worth, I’m very pleased that she is the new Liberal Democrat leader. I voted for her this time, and actually I really hoped she would become leader when Vince Cable did (although I recognise it wasn’t the right time for her).

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Photo — 2019-07-19

Assembly instructions with detail of Thom Yorke's Anima record packaging

I do enjoy the Ikea-style assembly instructions included when you buy a fancy Radiohead / Thom Yorke record.

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Top tasks surveys have identified what really matters to students using LearnWebsite and Communications Blog

Pie chart of students' top tasks in Learn

As part of our programme of user research in support of the Learn Foundations project, we have carried out a top tasks survey to understand what students need when accessing course materials online.

What we found was that students value three items much more than everything else. Those items are all to do with lectures.

See the full post to find out more.

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Note — 2019-07-15

I just watched the British Grand Prix. 😱 Sebastian Vettel needs to retire as soon as possible, before he does any further damage to his reputation. So sad to see a once great driver reduced to this.

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The elements of a better user experience in LearnWebsite and Communications Blog

The sketch that started it all

As part of the Learn Foundations project, we have carried out a programme of quantitative research to ensure a user-centred approach to solution development.

The Learn Foundations project team wanted to develop a new template using a user-centred approach. This template would be designed to introduce more consistency between different courses in Learn. But it also had to support a diverse variety of needs across different courses, supporting different schools, colleges and teaching needs. It also had to be developed quickly.

We took inspiration from a classic user experience diagram to ensure this new template could be built on firm foundations.

This post introduces the steps we took. Forthcoming posts will describe each step in more detail and some of our key findings.

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Why this is a bad time for Red Bull to drop their leading junior talentDieter RenckenRaceFans

It’s good to see this issue getting some more attention, from none other than Dieter Rencken. I’ve been saying this for years.

If the aim of the Junior programme is to develop F1 drivers such situations point to something seriously amiss with the selection process. In 20 years and over 350 grands prix, just three alumni – Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo and Verstappen – won grands prix. Of these only Ricciardo can be considered a fully ‘homegrown’ product of Red Bull’s system, the other two having been schooled elsewhere.

Dan Ticktum’s meltdown was seemingly brought about by the high-pressure environment of Red Bull’s driver programme. But this just the latest in a very long line of failures.

It’s easy to say this from the outside, but if I was a driver with some talent I would steer well clear of the Red Bull programme. The list of unnecessarily ruined careers is far, far longer than the successes.

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The return on investment of design-led changeDavid AyreFutureGov

How design can be used instead of traditional change management methods.

In the same way that design-led change isn’t just about hiring designers, it also shouldn’t be thought of as a specialist or localised resource (like a design team). Creativity and thinking about design as a state of mind is more a competence that should be part of the fabric of every 21st-century organisation.

My thinking on this has changed a lot over the years. In the past I might have thought that having a strong design team was the way forward. But that’s just creating another silo.

Now I see the real job as finding ways to empower the entire organisation to think like a designer, and help them make the right decisions for the right reasons.

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VexationsErik Satie

Erik Satie portrait

Erik Satie’s Vexations is shrouded in mystery. It was not published during Satie’s lifetime. It’s thought it was composed in 1893. But it went undiscovered until 1963, when John Cage first performed it publicly.

It is just three lines long, but is accompanied by this ambiguous instruction (translated from French):

In order to play the theme 840 times in succession, it would be advisable to prepare oneself beforehand, and in the deepest silence, by serious immobilities

While this is usually interpreted as an instruction to repeat the music 840 times to complete a performance, it’s not clear if this was actually Satie’s intention.

The tempo instruction is “Très lent” — very slow. In the words of Wikipedia, this “could mean anything”.

Cage’s first performance lasted over 18 hours — longer than he had estimated. The CD recording I own lasts only 23 minutes — a tiny fraction of the full experience. The liner notes to that CD flags up the following:

A 70 minute performance (40 repetitions) of Vexations by Alan Marks is available on the CD Vexations (LTMCD 2389)…

Despite the repetitive nature of the music, it never seems to get boring. There is something disturbing yet irresistible about it. I always imagine falling very slowly towards an uncertain destination. It feels like being trapped in an Escher painting.

This piece predates muzak and ambient music by at least 50 years. The CD liner notes say it “provided minimalism with an important historical precedent.” It even predates Dada.

This YouTube video contains a full performance, albeit one performed seemingly too fast.

You don’t hear this on adverts quite as often as Gymnopédie 1

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Interviews with students to understand users’ needs and contexts around LearnWebsite and Communications Blog

Foam board summarising insights from interviews with students

Summarising the key findings from a set of user interviews I conducted with students on their needs around accessing course materials digitally. Just one of the strands of the Learn Foundations project, which I still have much more to write about.

After analysing and synthesising the insights gathered through the interviews, we built up a picture of how and why students’ experience with Learn varies throughout the year as students attempt to complete different tasks. This is presented as a semester in the life of students using Learn.

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The RapanthemModeselektor

Hello Mom! cover

In retrospect, this tune (from 2005) sounds a little dated. A little bit too heavy on the post-Boards of Canada glitchy hip-hop influence. Bbbbutttt… it’s still pretty good.

I remember listening to this album a lot when I was studying at the University of Edinburgh, taking lunchtime walks round the Meadows. 14 years on I find myself taking the same lunchtime walks, working for the university. Crazy days.

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Horner wants kerb changes after ‘£250,000 damage’ in first practiceKeith CollantineRaceFans

Kerbs at Red Bull Ring

As usual, Christian Horner seems to be talking bull.

On the one hand, he’s bemoaning the damage being caused to cars by the kerbs. On the other hand, he’s saying they are “too inviting”. It can’t be both.

Horner believes they are “too inviting” for drivers. “They know they’re there, I just think the angle that they’re at, I think that’s what they really need to look at.”…

“It needs something either more substantial that is a real deterrent because the invitation is there for the drivers to try to use it.”

Damaging your front wing isn’t a deterrent enough?

Given this, and other recent events in Canada and France, I’m starting to wonder if F1’s biggest problem is that drivers have formed a sense of entitlement that they should be allowed to leave the circuit without consequence.

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Comparing service design and business designBen Holliday

Business design can be very different to service design if it’s focused on the wrong things. But Ben Holliday notes:

Service design is business design when we focus on and care about designing for both internal staff and external user experience together as front and back stage of how a service works.

All too often business design is narrowly self-serving. If it’s not focused on ultimately improving things for your users or customers, it will do damage in the long run.

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Building a design team from scratch in a large and complex organisationSimon Dixon

I especially like the points this article makes about why design needs to go beyond digital.

Even though I have worked primarily in digital teams, I have always believed in making things better not just digital. In health especially, we need to remember that people are complex human beings in a whole variety of circumstances and not simply a collection of user needs.

More food for thought as I begin thinking more about how we need to move beyond individual user needs and design for something that goes beyond that.

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Khoi Vinh on how his blog amplified his work and careerOwn Your Content

Khoi Vinh illustration

An interview with Khoi Vinh on the benefits of blogging.

Blogging has always been pivotal to my career. When I was offered my first ‘proper’ job as a web editor at the University of St Andrews, I only really had my blog to speak for. Yet it was enough to get my name out there, and to enable me to develop web skills.

Since then, I’ve had less and less spare time. Now it’s a huge challenge to find the space for myself to blog.

I’d done well last year by publishing something every day. But recently I fell off the wagon. So this line from Khoi Vinh’s interview stood out to me:

I think you’ve just got to do it consistently, repeatedly, and you’ve got to be undeterred by the time it requires and the inconvenience in your life that it generates.

I’ll try to be more tolerant of that inconvenience. It will probably pay off in some way I can’t imagine just now, like it did 10 years ago.

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