Note — 2022-02-18
How often do you buy Valentine’s Day gifts? More often than once a week? Less often than once a month?
Stop making people complete terrible surveys that you won’t even be able to interpret the results of!
I have been interviewed for the podcast UX Soup. The host Chris Schreiner was interested in the User Experience Service’s work at the University of Edinburgh. He spoke with me about:
- how the consultancy model works in a higher education context
- the history of our service
- the projects we get involved with
- the methodologies we follow
- the specific challenges we face working in higher education
It was good fun being interviewed. Please have a listen if you have the time. Thank you to Chris for the opportunity.
For the past two years, a group of service designers have been researching and understanding the state of service design practice in Scotland. Angela F Orviz, Serena Nüsing, Stéphanie Krus and Vinishree Verma have been doing this in their spare time and with no funding.
Their insights are fascinating reading. The study shows how far service design has come in Scotland over a few short years. But it also outlines a series of challenges the discipline faces for the future.
I recommend you read the blog posts to get a sense of the depth of the findings. They are a must-read for anyone interested in human-centred approaches, and making positive change within organisations and society.
To the team behind Practitioner Stories, thank you for your hard work on this. 🙏
Note — 2022-01-05
I return to work regularly today for the first time in almost 25 weeks.
This was longer than anticipated. My planned parental leave was forcibly extended due to my ankle injury. It was further complicated by my tricky recovery. I have more to say about all of that another day.
I approach today with a mixture of trepidation and excitement. Balancing work with looking after a one-year-old is a whole new normal. For me at least, it makes the changes in working practices due to coronavirus seem small.
Join me at next week’s UX Glasgow ask us anything event. I will be on a panel of eight human-centred professionals answering your burning questions about user experience, interaction design, user research, content design and service design.
You’ll have the opportunity to join two or three breakout sessions with rooms for your choice of topic.
To help us prepare, please if you have the time take two minutes to fill in our short questionnaire where you can submit your questions in advance.
Have you ever participated in a user engagement session designed for you to share your views, but felt that you weren’t properly included, or that your views wouldn’t be acted on? Fed up with bad surveys and poorly planned focus groups?
Most of us want to engage with our users and stakeholders. We all want to make sure our users have a voice in projects that will affect them. But the approach you take can have a major effect on the success or failure of your engagement.
There are some basic truths about human behaviour that we know from psychology and other social sciences. But in many projects, these basic truths tend to be ignored.
Read this post on my team’s blog for tips on how to avoid the pitfalls of poorly planned user engagement, and how to make user research effective.
The second of my two posts on my work team’s blog about UCD Gathering, the remote conference I attended in October.
This blog post covers the third theme I wanted to highlight: how we can better demonstrate the business impact of human-centred approaches.
Back in October, I had the opportunity to attend the UCD Gathering conference, a new virtual event for practitioners of user-centred design in all its forms. Over on my work blog, I have published the first of two posts reflecting on what I learned.
This first post covers two themes:
- Being aware of bias, and other cognitive considerations
- Improving readability of content
The post also mentions my own session at the conference, about our user research into the needs of staff and students working with course materials online. The Learn Foundations project has proved fortuitous in that it has helped schools move their teaching online and prepare for hybrid teaching in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.
I will be speaking at next week’s UX Glasgow meetup. This month it is a service design special, coinciding with Services Week.
My presentation will be based on my blog post Service design and the Mario complex, exploring the similarities and differences between user experience and service design.
It’s part of a bumper line-up of speakers, including sessions about the Scottish Approach to Service Design, some excellent research into the service design community in Scotland, and a student project imagining the future of Glasgow.
It’s a ticketed virtual event, so sign up to be part of what should be a brilliant session.
Last month our brilliant colleague Lizzie Cass-Maran left our team after more than 10 years. In her final blog post for our team’s blog, she has written this plea to keep humans at the centre of all our decision-making.
For the past few years I’ve been working with Lizzie, I’ve always been impressed at the impact and quality of the work she has delivered in often challenging circumstances. She is a key reason why Website and Communications has such a strong user-centred culture.
Moreover, her impact stretched far beyond our own team. She influenced human-centred approaches across the entire university. She has played a genuinely leading role in our communities of practice. The effective digital content training that she has designed ensures that our content editors will continue to create well-written content that meets users’ needs.
Most recently, she did most of the heavy lifting in a project to revolutionise the university’s editorial style guide. The outcome of this is that, for the first time, we have a unified style guide that is designed for use across all content, print and digital, being managed across organisational silos.
Our team genuinely will not be the same without her.
Isobel is our first baby, so it’s difficult to compare having a baby during coronavirus to other times. But it does seem like a strange time to have a baby. There are many disadvantages to the current situation. But there are also some interesting advantages, particularly for me as a father. Read full article3 comments
I really like the evidence-based advice in this article. It shows how the pathway to true happiness is to, in a way, forget about yourself.
Instead of thinking about the myriad negative feelings you want to avoid and the myriad things you can buy or do in service of that, think about a single organising principle that is highly effective at generating positive feelings across the board: Shift your focus outward.
I often feel uneasy about how much advice from self-help gurus encourages people to focus inwards on themselves. Humans naturally crave social interaction and feeling part of a wider purpose, beyond narrow self-interest.
This article offers practical suggestions for how you can find that, to help you feel better through what’s going to be a tough winter.
Photo — 2020-11-16
This interview with the civic tech leader Cyd Harrell covers interesting ground around user experience, including:
- the differences between the public and private sectors
- making privacy a priority
- avoiding “attention theft”, where we bombard users with more and more notifications
Photo — 2020-11-07
Carrying out a pen audit
Here’s another post I published to my team’s blog over the summer and forgot to link to from here.
Back in June, I ran an experiment in mass remote collaboration at our Web Publishing Community. This was, of course, at the height of lockdown, as we were adapting to the new reality of a prolonged period of working from home.
I’d come away from the Service Design in Government conference in March really keen to try out liberating structures, following an excellent session run by Open Change.
Liberating structures is a set of workshop tools designed to include everyone and generate innovative ideas. These are ideally carried out with people who are physically together, so it was a little awkward when I wanted to try them out just at the moment everyone was required to be physically apart.
But some liberating structures are possible to run remotely, so I decided to introduce a large number of colleagues to a foundational liberating structure — 1-2-4-all.
Through this session, we collaboratively sifted through ideas generated by over 40 participants, before coming to a consensus on the one strongest idea.
An analysis of the design of postal voting materials in the US.
Where are all the UX designers and researchers, service designers, and content writers and editors when voting process and materials are designed? Not there or simply beaten by bureaucracy or deadlines?
A good reminder that user experience goes way beyond technology and even design. It’s about the small decisions that are made by everyone involved in a process, that if made badly can prevent people getting fundamental stuff done.
My brilliant friend Lauren Tormey has written a detailed post about the hurt the UK’s immigration system causes to people. Please read what she has to say, and take action.
I realised that while the summer got pretty busy for us, there are a few work blog posts that I haven’t cross-posted here yet. So I will drip-feed them here over the next little while.
This first one is from July, where I outlined some of the lessons we have been learning from getting collaborative activities done remotely. This post also highlights some of the work my colleagues have been doing to continue our user experience work despite the challenges presented by the coronavirus outbreak.
This was a follow-up to an earlier blog post, Meeting the challenges of conducting user research remotely.
The rumours were true — Changing Rooms is coming back, 20 years on from its heyday. I don’t really remember watching it very much, but I have been struck by how much people have been talking about it recently.
The TV show clearly struck a chord. And why not, when you can reminisce about stories like the prized £6,000 teapot collection that was destroyed by one of the programme’s ludicrous interior design ideas?
What I love about this story is the stiff upper lip displayed by the victim of this design disaster, which is really a paper-thin disguise for seething anger that brings out a gem of a quote like this:
“I still feel that she’s got what she deserved, which is really being dropped by everybody,” Clodagh says of Linda Barker [the interior designer]. “I still don’t feel very good about her. On the very rare occasion she’s on television now, when I do see her, she’s still very bouncy, and I just don’t think she earned the bounce,” she laughs.
So. Much. Shade.
Tomatoes are a bit of an ontological mess.
Why information architecture is difficult, explained by tomatoes — and not just the fruit/vegetable thing you might already be thinking.
Note — 2020-09-23
A highly entertaining read about how someone used a photo of a boarding pass posted by Tony Abbott on his own Instagram account to find out the former Australian prime minister’s personal details including his passport and phone number. Alex Hope embarks on an adventure to find out whether he broke the law, figure out how he can inform Tony Abbott that he knows his passport number, and let the airline know about their hair-raisingly bad information security.
Photo — 2020-09-13
Alex and I are expecting a baby!
Arriving December 2020.
It’s probably a bit inaccurate to describe Simeon Coxe as a synth pioneer. A pioneer he was, but his musical inventions predated the widespread use of synthesisers. They in fact involved a set-up known as the simeon machine, consisting of “more than a dozen” oscillators.
When he introduced the first oscillator to the rock band he was part of in 1967, all three guitarists quit, leaving just him and the drummer, Dan Taylor. The result was a new band — Silver Apples, a prototypical electronic band, but with a rock sensibility secured by the equally experimental drumming.
They predated Kraftwerk, and their music lacks the polish that developed in electronic music over the subsequent decades. The primitive but complex set-up produced an abrasive and raw, yet repetitive and hypnotic sound.
Perhaps Silver Apples were the first post-rock band. Maybe they were even the first electronic pop music band. Their first two albums even predate 1969’s An Electric Storm by White Noise, which enlisted the help of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop’s Delia Derbyshire and Brian Hodgson to help realise David Vorhaus’s futuristic electronic vision of pop.
Like White Noise, Silver Apples were met with limited commercial success in their time, only to be discovered as cult favourites decades down the line. The public just had to get used to the idea of electronic music.
Formula 1 prepares to hold its first event of 2020 after the Australian Grand Prix had to be suddenly cancelled March, after everyone had arrived down under.
Now the first event takes place in Austria. A little easier to travel to. But the global nature of the sport — with personnel floating through Europe to congregate — seems particularly problematic.
Channel 4’s commentator Ben Edwards will be broadcasting this weekend from Silverstone, not Austria. But he thinks motorsport is more ideally suited to dealing with coronavirus than you might think.
At a circuit, awareness of gaps is crucial; a racing driver needs instantly to assess whether there is room to pass a piece of debris on the tarmac while marshals are constantly checking gaps between leaders and backmarkers to decide on blue flags, or positioning cars accurately in tightly formed assembly areas.
We are accustomed to checking distances, and unlike so many of the customers in supermarkets who appear to be oblivious to the rules that have been imposed, in my opinion the motorsport scene is naturally geared up for it and will cope accordingly.
I hope he’s right and there isn’t a situation like the one tennis has found itself in.
In the middle of this conversation between Jarvis Cocker and Jeanie Finlay, I really enjoyed this description of how it feels to crowdsurf:
The feeling is amazing actually because you just give yourself over to it, you lie there and the audience are supporting you and you’re really just trusting them to not just let you fall on the ground. I kind of just laid there for a bit looking at the roof of the tent we were in, travelling out into the audience. And then it suddenly occurred to me that I couldn’t stay there too long because the rest of the band would get bored. And then, it was really magical because I just raised my head a little bit and looked towards the stage and as I did that it was like they just knew and I got transported right back to the crowd barrier again.
A very interesting-sounding study has analysed English language football commentary from seven broadcasters and 80 live matches.
RunRepeat ratio-adjusted its numbers to account for the fact there were 1,361 comments about lighter-skinned players and 713 about darker-skinned players and found the former group more widely praised for intelligence (62.60%), hard work (60.40%) and quality (62.79%). Commentators are also 6.59 times more likely to talk about the power of a player if he has darker skin and 3.38 times more likely to reference his pace.
The study also found that 63.33% of criticism from commentators in regards to the intelligence of a player is aimed at those with darker skin, while the figure for quality is 67.57%.