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Service design specialUX Glasgow

Service design illustrations

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.

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Access for all — my final plea for human-centred designLizzie Cass-MaranWebsite and Communications Blog

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.

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How to make this winter not totally suck, according to psychologistsSigal SamuelVox

Illustration of a sad-looking woman

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.

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From 40 sets of ideas to one in 20 minutes — A collaboration experiment with the Web Publishing CommunityWebsite and Communications Blog

Liberating Structures leaflet designed by Open Change

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.

Read the blog post for the full details of how it worked — and what went wrong.

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Vote by mail: Mistakes are too easyKara PerniceNielsen Norman Group

Postal voting materials

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.

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Meeting the challenges of collaborating remotelyWebsite and Communications Blog

A Miro boards with digital sticky notes on it

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.

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The woman whose teapots were destroyed on Changing RoomsAmelia TaitThe Waiting Room

Illustration of Clodagh, victim of a Changing Rooms disaster

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.

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Note — 2020-09-23

It’s nice to see that Google’s new Web Creators initiative has an RSS feed. Now maybe they could work on a product that helps people subscribe to those RSS feeds to foster this community of web creators…

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When you browse Instagram and find former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott’s passport numberAlex HopeThe Mango Zone

Montage including redacted screenshot of Tony Abbott's Instagram post

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.

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LovefingersSilver Apples

Silver Apples album cover

Silver Apples synth pioneer Simeon Coxe dies aged 82

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.

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It’s time to go racing…Ben EdwardsBritish Motorsports Marshals Club

Ben Edwards with marshals

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.

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Rave in the cave: Jarvis Cocker interviewedJeanie FinlayThe Quietus

Jarvis Cocker and Jeanie FInlay

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.

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Groundbreaking report reveals racial bias in English football commentarySachin NakraniThe Guardian

Footballers' legs of different colours

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%.

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UX DiaryHelen Wiles

Sticky note with an illustration of a diary labelled: "Dear Diary"

Keep an eye on this impressive blog. Join Helen Wiles and explore the world of user experience.

This blog is quite new, but already there are brilliant articles on topics like:

  • Recruiting a representative sample of participants
  • Conducting remote usability testing
  • The difference between empathy and sympathy

They are all written in a very accessible and creative way, making it an enjoyable read.

One thing I have noticed from working in UX is that the concept of user experience itself isn’t exactly the most usable… as most people don’t even know what it is! So, I’m trying to create a space where I can give useful advice and tell stories that help to make it more accessible for everyone, as I think it’s so important.

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A white woman, racism and a poodleCynthia FranksFranklyWrite

Merlin, a black dog, in the passenger seat of a car

How a white woman discovered what it’s like to constantly be spuriously pulled over by the police, because she had a black dog.

One day, sitting at a restaurant having breakfast with my Dad; our old neighbor came in and said, “There’s a black man stealing your van. He’s behind the wheel right now.” I paused a minute and realized he was referring to Merlin. Bells went off.

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Microsoft’s robot editor confuses mixed-race Little Mix singersJim WatersonThe Guardian

Jade Thirlwall and Leigh-Anne Pinnock from Little Mix

How about this for dystopia? MSN have replaced human news editors with a robot powered by Microsoft artificial intelligence technology. The problem is, it has already begun making racist decisions.

And then, in case you thought the story wasn’t already absurd enough, this:

In advance of the publication of this article, staff at MSN were told to expect a negative article in the Guardian about alleged racist bias in the artificial intelligence software that will soon take their jobs.

Because they are unable to stop the new robot editor selecting stories from external news sites such as the Guardian, the remaining human staff have been told to stay alert and delete a version of this article if the robot decides it is of interest and automatically publishes it on MSN.com. They have also been warned that even if they delete it, the robot editor may overrule them and attempt to publish it again.

Then the article ends on a delicious snippet — that Microsoft itself is concerned about the reputational damage this scheme will cause to its AI technology.

I’m immediately reminded of Microsoft’s disastrous Tay experiment.

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How we do user research analysis at the Heritage FundJo ArthurDoing Service Design at the National Lottery Heritage Fund

A write-up of a brilliant talk Jo Arthur gave at this month’s UX Glasgow event, where she outlined how the National Lottery Heritage Fund analyse user research remotely. I found it super useful, not least because this is exactly what we need to do at my work right now, and I have taken a lot of inspiration from this. Thanks Jo!

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Abt “on the ground” after sim scandal splits him from AudiHazel SouthwellInside Electric

Daniel Abt in the cockpit of his car

In the short history of esport racing being so heavily under the spotlight while there is no real-life motorsport going on, there have already been a fair few controversies.

Yet the revelation that Daniel Abt had got a professional esport racer, Lorenz Hoerzing, to compete on his behalf in the Formula E Race at Home Challenge (a charity event raising funds for Unicef) has quickly topped the list.

This deception has cost Daniel Abt his job as an Audi Formula E driver in the real world. The fact that he has been sacked is especially extraordinary because his family’s company is heavily involved in the running of the team.

Daniel Abt himself has been outspoken on the topic of cheating in Formula E before. He once described fanboost voting patterns as suspicious, suggesting that robots were being hired to give certain drivers more votes in the fanboost poll. That comment in itself seemed suspicious to me, given that he had actually won the fanboost quite a lot around that time.

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There will be no “back to normal”Nesta

Faded out aerial view of an urban area taken on a fisheye lens

This is more than a month old. In terms of the coronavirus outbreak, that’s an eternity. But I still found this list of possible future scenarios interesting and thought-provoking.

It also comes with the major caveat that predicting the future is a mug’s game at the best of times, never mind during these times. This is inherently recognised in the fact that some of the predictions are contradictory.

I was particularly interested in the political, economic and sociocultural predictions. For instance, I have wondered if in the coming decades society will prioritise getting the basics right more over relentless innovation. This article suggests that may be the case, but that the shift may not last long.

The crisis may prompt a reappraisal of what society cares about most, with short-term attention focusing on the bottom of Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of needs’. (This may have the effect of, for example, boosting relative status of health workers and farmers, and diminishing ‘luxury’ industries, including leisure, gaming, arts – although history suggests that this will be short-lived, and the luxury status of some goods and services may ultimately be reinforced.)

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Ignore the customer experience, lose a billion dollars (Walmart case study)Good Experience

This case study would be seen by some as a reason not to understand users at all. “If I asked users what they wanted, they’d say faster horses. Hurr hurr.”

In fact, like the idea of faster horses, it demonstrates how important it is to understand your users in the right way, not just pay lip service to doing so.

Badly-designed user research leads respondents to certain responses. This is often unintentional — avoiding bias is difficult.

Sometimes it’s intentional. Perhaps the survey designer has a pet idea. They might (subconsciously) skew the questions in a certain way to get the answers they want.

A classic example is asking someone if they would like a certain feature to be added to a product. The answer is almost always: “Er, yes, I suppose so.” People think they like choice, so more features sounds good. But in reality, too many features — or too much choice — leads to choice paralysis and greater frustration.

The lesson isn’t to ignore user research. But be aware of your biases. Be wary of surveys as a methodology. And don’t simply ask people what they want. Instead, understand what they do, and why they do it.

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FIA announces major safety changes following serious and fatal crashesKeith CollantineRaceFans

The FIA has announced a series of safety changes, including major improvements to the designs of F1 and other single-seater cars, following investigations of “28 serious and fatal accidents” at circuits during 2019.

It’s easy to talk about “freak accidents”. So it’s reassuring to see that the FIA are proposing a wide range of major safety improvements to cars and circuits. At first glace, the wide range of proposals — from strengthening chassis, to improving run-off areas, to implementing procedures around rejoining the circuit, to automated warning systems — seem largely sensible, and indicate that no stone has been left unturned in the quest to improve safety.

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