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UK infosec experts flag concern over NHSX contact tracing appLaurie ClarkeNS Tech

Mobile app displaying a text message from the government

This is the sort of reason why I don’t trust the state with my data as much as I trust many private companies. Apple and Google have worked together (itself a minor miracle) to develop a method of contact tracing that does not collect personal data and does not invade people’s privacy.

NHSX has rejected that model in favour of one that will enable them to deanonymise people, and store that information in a centralised database. This is the surveillance state. It risks reducing goodwill towards the NHS and other public institutions.

A statement for medical privacy campaign group Medconfidential reads: “Given NHSX has chosen to build an unnecessary massive pool of sensitive data, it must ensure that the data is well protected. With combined effort, GCHQ and NHS Digital will likely be good at defending the big pool of sensitive data. But there is no need to have that data. The best way to make sure data doesn’t leak, is to have chosen the method that never collected it.”

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Principles and prioritiesJeremy KeithAdactio

What makes a good principle? How do you avoid principles that are mere motherhood and apple pie? According to Jeremy Keith, it’s all about establishing priorities.

He goes on to outline the danger of prioritising the experience of developers or designers above the user experience. He makes an interesting observation about a perceived difference in the way developers, er, develop and the way designers do.

Developer efficiency is prized above all else. Like I said, that would be absolutely fine if we’re talking about technologies that only developers are exposed to, but as soon as we’re talking about shipping those technologies over the network to end users, it’s negligent to continue to prioritise the developer experience…

I’ve been talking about developers here, but this is something that applies just as much to designers. But I feel like designers go through that priority shift fairly early in their career. At the outset, they’re eager to make their mark and prove themselves. As they grow and realise that it’s not about them, they understand that the most appropriate solution for the user is what matters, even if that’s a “boring” tried-and-tested pattern that isn’t going to wow any fellow designers.

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SunCaribou

Swim cover

A few weeks ago, in the early stages of lockdown, Caribou’s album Swim played on shuffle. “This is a recent album,” I thought, “but it reminds me of happier times.

It turns out this album is in fact ten years old today. Time flies, I guess.

It was a time before covid-19. A time before DRS was introduced to Formula 1. A time when (briefly) people agreed with Nick Clegg.

Then I watched the video to Sun, one of the singles from the album. Extraordinarily, it seems made for today’s social distancing.

It features a group of mostly unhappy-looking people stuck in a dark room, dancing at a ceiling lamp as if it’s replacing the sun, and all studiously avoiding touching each other.

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Meeting the challenges of conducting user research remotelyWebsite and Communications Blog

A laptop displaying a user interface

The coronavirus outbreak has posed massive challenges for everyone in society. For practitioners of human-centred approaches to design, where face-to-face interaction is often so important to enhancing our understanding, our current requirement to maintain social distancing creates obvious barriers.

However, this doesn’t mean our work to ensure we’re meeting people’s needs has to stop. In fact, there are some perhaps surprising advantages to working remotely as a user experience practitioner.

Over on my team’s blog, I have outlined some of what I’ve learned about remote user research over the past month or so.

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Note — 2020-04-16

A drama about coughing ought to be super-triggering during this era. But I really enjoyed Quiz. It took my mind off everything.

An amazing story told in a hilarious way and with a geeky attention to detail. It’s crazy to think this all happened 19 years ago.

A great balancing act from Michael Sheen as Chris Tarrant — somehow taking the piss, while simultaneously being note-perfect.

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Autechre live in Glasgow, 15 April 2005

Autechre have recently released long-anticipated official recordings from their 2016 and 2018 tours, which I am currently (slowly) working my way through.

But on this day 15 years ago in Glasgow, Autechre performed perhaps their mightiest live set ever. I love this almost as much as any of their albums.

A lot of IDM-heads celebrate Avril 14th for the Aphex Twin tune, but that was yesterday. I enjoyed Kelly Moran’s cover.

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How will humans, by nature social animals, fare when isolated?The Economist

Illustration of a glum-looking woman sitting at a desk in a dark room

I have worried about the social and mental health effects of the lockdown measures being implemented. But even I hadn’t anticipated quite how much conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder appear to be common following quarantines.

According to a rapid review of the psychological effects of quarantines, published on March 14th in the Lancet, a British medical journal, some studies suggest that the impact of quarantines can be so severe as to result in a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder…

One study from 2009 looked at hospital employees in Beijing who in 2003 were exposed to severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which, like covid-19, is caused by a coronavirus. The authors found that, three years later, having been quarantined was a predictor of post-traumatic-stress symptoms. Another study… found that the mean post-traumatic-stress scores were four times higher in children who had been isolated.

Elsewhere, the article highlights as a problem the fact that 67% of 18–34-year-olds are finding it hard to remain upbeat. But I’m more concerned about those who are managing to be upbeat among all this madness.

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Note — 2020-03-20

Me holding a bottle of Corona

Virtual birthday party — 9pm tonight

It’s my birthday today. But I couldn’t really be bothered to organise a physical get-together. Instead, I thought it would be fun to imagine there was some horrific virus that meant we couldn’t really leave the house much, and I had to celebrate it remotely.

Update: This will now take place at 9pm, not 7pm as before.

Join us at 9pm for 40 minutes of free Zoom-based party times.

Bring your own Corona.

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HTML: The Inaccessible PartsDave Rupert

Following on from Gov.UK’s revelation about <input type="number">, Dave Rupert has compiled a list of other bits of HTML that can cause inadvertent accessibility issues.

There are some cases where even using plain ol’ HTML causes accessibility problems. I get frustrated and want to quit web development whenever I read about these types of issues. Because if browsers can’t get this right, what hope is there for the rest of us.

Not that we should give up, of course.

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McKinsey: CEOs have no clue what chief design officers doMark WilsonFast Company

Picture of a hipster drinking coffee with headphones hanging of a massive Mac screen. I guess that's what a designer is.

Talk about designers “having a seat at the table” generally leaves me cold. But this useful article explains why it can matter — but why designers have a duty to do more than simply be at the table.

Evidence has long suggested that companies with a strong design focus are more successful. The example of Logitech outlined here bears that out.

But if some CEOs don’t understand the value of design, it’s up to designers to articulate it properly.

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Why the Gov.UK Design System team changed the input type for numbersHanna LaaksoTechnology in government

Numeric keypad interface

The Gov.UK Design System team have discovered that using the HTML element <input type="number"> creates some surprising problems in certain environments.

Some of the limitations in assistive technologies such as Dragon Naturally Speaking are disappointing but unsurprising.

But Chrome deciding to convert large numbers to exponential notation is rather more eyebrow-raising. Then there is Safari adding commas to long numbers that are in fact credit card numbers. You have to wonder about some of the decision-making among browser vendors.

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Treefingers (Extended Version)Radiohead

Treefingers (Extended Version) cover

Radiohead there, just casually adding an extra minute to a legendary 20-year-old track.

They may have declared that they are taking a “year away” from music, but they still manage to find ways of keeping fans going.

The recent launch of the Radiohead Public Library generously provides free access to a vast amount of archive material from throughout their career. The addition of this extended version of Treefingers is among the content that has been added even since the launch.

Who needs new Radiohead when you can have new old Radiohead?

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Coding is for everyone — as long as you speak EnglishGretchen McCullochWired

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the World Wide Web, so there’s been a lot of pixels spilled on “the initial promises of the web”—one of which was the idea that you could select “view source” on any page and easily teach yourself what went into making it display like that.

This article makes a great point about how this promise only truly works if you can speak English.

The process described above is exactly how I learned HTML. The fact that I would have to use “color” instead of “colour” is a mildly amusing inconvenience. I hadn’t really considered before how it must feel if you don’t speak any English.

I don’t speak Russian, and assuming you don’t either, does <заголовок> and <заглавие> and <тело> and <п> still feel like something you want to tinker with?

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How community politics became customer service politics (and then consumed British politics from within)Nick Barlow

A history of community politics, how it morphed to become people pointing at potholes, and ultimately undermined politics completely.

Activism was no longer about helping people get the power to solve their own problems, but rather demanding someone at “the council” solve them for them. Rather than “we can help you do things”, the message was now that “something must be done” and “somebody must do something”, but that somebody is almost always somebody else…

Activism based around ideology, empowering people and giving them the ability to sort things out is hard, activism based around being the most efficient local busybody and delivering the most leaflets is comparatively easy.

I have often wondered about political leaflets that are all about a hodgepodge of local issues, but are strangely noncommittal about what should be done about them. All of the leaflets, in every colour, say largely the same noncommittal things about small-to-medium-sized local issues. They almost always fail to adequately explain why Candidate X is the person to deal with it.

It’s all so uninspiring. Perhaps we need to present some actual political ideas again.

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PricksGescom

MiniDisc artwork (CD version)

In 1998, Gescom released MiniDisc, said to be the first ever MiniDisc-only release. (I believe the CD artwork, shown here, is a photo of a Sony bigwig showing it off at an event.)

A mere eight years later, MiniDisc was already obsolete, at least in the home. The music was given a CD release, and that is the version I have.

MiniDisc original artwork

The music was specifically designed to take advantage of MiniDisc features that weren’t available on CDs. The original release even included a running time that was precise to a hundredth of a second, something not possible with CDs. Also unlike CDs, MiniDiscs could handle gapless shuffle.

The music on Gescom’s MiniDisc consisted of 45 pieces divided over 88 tracks. So, for example, Pricks actually consisted of four different tracks varying in length from 5 seconds to 3:55.

The idea was that the listener could shuffle for a new experience every time. Or, they could create their own loops and experiments by playing tracks in different orders.

Gescom is a collective of experimental electronic musicians, presumed to be centred around Autechre’s Sean Booth and Rob Brown, but also said to include up to 30 others. In addition to Booth\Brown, MiniDisc was made by Russell Haswell.

The music itself is ceaselessly experimental. Even in the context of Autechre’s work, this was pretty out there.

But listening today, it’s striking how MiniDisc seems to have laid the groundwork for some of Autechre’s most recent music, particularly on NTS Sessions.

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Content strategy: Beware the chatty tone of voiceLauren EllisHumanising Technology Blog

"Beware the chatty brand voice"

The perils of using an overly-familiar tone of voice in your copy. There are some cracking examples here of support content that prioritises daft quips over getting to the point.

You’ve ordered a package and you want to know how long delivery will take. It’s a straight forward question, so you would expect to find out quickly and easily. What you don’t need is a couple lines of heavily branded content standing between you and your answer. You just want to know how long the delivery will take…

Users are task-led and time-poor.

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Join our team as a Content DesignerWebsite and Communications Blog

View of Edinburgh Castle from our office

Come and work with our team!

We are looking for three experienced Content Designers to join the University of Edinburgh’s Website and Communications team as we embark on major projects to launch our new web publishing platform and services.

If you’re passionate about using evidence-based approaches to create great content that meets users’ needs, we want to hear from you.

There are three positions available. Find out more in the blog post. If you have any questions, just get in touch with me.

For my personal view on what it’s like working with the University of Edinburgh, check out my previous blog post: Why I value working in user experience in higher education.

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There is no design systemJina Anne24 ways

Quote from Jina Anne: "In what ways can we improve our collaboration, remove any proverbial gaps between design and engineering (not just bridge them), and have more meaningful conversations around the work we do?"

Why a design system should not be thought of as a Thing like a style guide, but in fact is all about building a community.

I have to tell you: a lot of the time that I’m working in design systems, I’m not even touching a design tool. Or coding. Rather, it’s a lot of people-focused work: Reviewing. Advising. Organizing. Coordinating. Triaging. Educating. Supporting. That’s a lot of invisible systems work right there.

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Journalism and design: Building solutions to our greatest challengesCatherine WoodiwissModernist Studio

A person looking at a sea creature in an aquarium

An exploration of the similarities and differences between journalism and design, and how the two disciplines can support each other.

Like journalists, designers research human behaviour, through interview and observation, in an attempt to understand complex problems…

But where journalists focus on content, designers focus on experience — what and who the content is for, how it’s delivered, and how behaviour may change as a result. And where journalists synthesise these insights to tell stories, designers push into making solutions.

See also: The journalism and user research relationship — Gregg Bernstein — Vox Product

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Dutch “singing road” silenced after villagers complain: “I’m going nuts”Palko Karasz and Yonette JosephThe New York Times

A car driving over the musical rumble strips

This must be the most spurious “road safety” feature ever conceived.

A Dutch town decided to install rumble strips that are set at certain frequencies so that cars “play” the regional anthem as they drive over them.

This article focuses on the fact that this feature is driving residents crazy as they repeatedly have to hear this raspy version of the same melody all day (and night) long.

But surely the spurious justification is more deserving of ire.

Local officials hoped the strips would encourage drivers to stick to the speed limit.

Because, apparently, the melody would only play when drivers are driving at the right speed. Except, as officials concede later in the article, that’s not even true. If you drive at a different speed, the melody still plays — just at a different speed. Perhaps drivers may even speed up just to end the din more quickly.

What a terrible idea!

This article also contains a brilliant video from Tom Scott demonstrating an even more disastrous version of the same idea, in California.

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The strange death of libertarian EnglandChris DillowStumbling and Mumbling

Related to the idea that British people just aren’t interested in liberal ideas at the moment, Chris Dillow wonders whatever happened to right-libertarianism.

The Tories won on policies that repudiated many of their professed beliefs: a higher minimum wage; increased public spending; and the manpower planning that is a points-based immigration policy.

After outlining some reasons why this shift has occurred, he notes some less respectable explanations:

One is that we have lost the cast of mind which underpins right-libertarianism — that of an awareness of the limits of one’s knowledge. We need freedom, thought [Friedrich] Hayek, because we cannot fully understand or predict society…

We live, however, in an age of narcissistic blowhards who are overconfident about everything. This is a climate which undervalues freedom.

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Opera: Phantom of the TurnaroundHindenburg Research

Screenshot of one of Opera's predatory loan apps from the Google Play store

If you still have the Opera web browser installed anywhere, now might be the time to stop.

With its browser business in decline, cash flow deteriorating (and balance sheet cash finding its way into management’s hands…), Opera has decided to embark on a dramatic business pivot: predatory short-term lending in Africa and Asia.

The article goes on to outline evidence of some seriously dodgy practices. What a sad end to the Opera story.

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Balwearie High School opening (BBC archive)

This video is apparently footage from a 1964 BBC interview from the opening of my old high school, Balwearie in Kirkcaldy. It’s fascinating to see how much of it looked exactly the same when I went to school between 1998 and 2004 — and how much of it was totally different.

For example, it is a revelation to see what the roof was originally like. The attractive and useful rooftop garden and astronomical equipment was gone, replaced with a plain felt roof with a haphazard walkway of paving slabs.

The school was also about twice as big by the time I went there. No-one confused it for a luxury hotel. But then again, that’s what 30 years will do to a building.

I wonder what it’s like now, 20 more years on.

Via Rich Gordon

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