A fascinating myth-busting piece. Lego isn’t more expensive than it used to be. But this article contains some interesting theories as to why people perceive it to be more expensive than it used to be.
A short list of surprisingly common things people ask users to do during a usability test — and what you should do instead.
Not mentioned in this list is the idea that you can ask people just to tell you what they think of the website generally.
The golden rule is: “Try to simulate reality”.
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?
Photo — 2020-02-16
Our first wedding anniversary.
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?
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.
Photo — 2020-02-08
Sushi time! 🍣 Thanks Mr Waitrose.
Photo — 2020-02-07
Perks of the job. Today I had a short impromptu tour of the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh on a crisp sunny winter’s morning.
A fascinating history of messaging from 1996’s ICQ to the present day. It details how a series of seemingly minor design decisions have had massive privacy implications and ultimately transformed how humans communicate.
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.
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.
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.
Photo — 2020-02-02
Making a New World — Field Music at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum last night.
How Bart Simpson explains how we got into this mess.
If you give someone a joke option, they will take it.
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.
This is possibly the best explanation I’ve seen of how to conduct user research interviews. This framework could be given to almost everyone, and they would be on their way to conducting good interviews.
It includes a very useful diagram outlining how to structure the interview — when to be open, and when to narrow down.
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.
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.
Photo — 2020-01-24
Doing some very important A/B testing.
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.
🙈 I’d almost forgotten about USF1. Good grief, what a pair of charlatans. It’s hard to believe this was 10 years ago.
A useful guide for those of us trying to push user research forward in our organisations.
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.
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.
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.
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
Researchers at Princeton University called three of the four major [US] carriers and tried to convince customer service representatives to move phone numbers to new sim cards. Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile each received ten calls from the researchers, who posed as customers.
Astoundingly, in all 30 cases the fake customers successfully convinced the carriers to move the numbers to new sim cards.
This matters because so many other services (such as banking systems) rely on SMS for authentication. If you only need to convince one customer service representative to swap a phone number, you could potentially have access to… almost anything.
Photo — 2020-01-15
This articulates something I’ve been pondering for a while. Is the current political climate the result of a gradual erosion of the unwritten rules of civil society?
It turns out that the Civil Society in Britain is built on very shaky foundations. In the past few months we have seen the illegal suspension of Parliament, an act that carried no consequences whatsoever; we have seen Civil Servants bullied out of their jobs by politicians who were then rewarded for their harassment by promotion and increased status; we have seen the government spend £100s of millions on trying to deny the consequences of its own policy on Brexit and, in doing so, do possibly irreparable damage to the global reputation of the UK.
The post also makes an interesting point about how the BBC covers the UK in a way that assumes it is a stable democracy, and turns a blind eye to developments that would see other countries being scrutinised heavily.
Leaders in the past were guided by a strong sense of right and wrong — doing what’s right in the name of stability. Those days are now gone.
How do you make participation in workshops and training sessions as accessible as possible? My colleague Lizzie Cass-Maran has created these low-tech voting cards (using letters, colours and shapes to include as many people as possible) that are easy to make yourself — and a lot less fiddly than some of the technology solutions out there.
This tune has disturbed me.
Since I heard it, a distressing sentence has floated around in my head:
“This is the best Squarepusher track in 14 years.”
14 years. Count it up.
I think I was 15 years old when I first discovered Squarepusher. To the young Squarepusher fan I was, it’s been almost a lifetime since he has released music like this.
I was a big fan of 2003’s Ultravisitor, where Squarepusher created an otherworldly environment somewhere between stadium prog-rock concert and IDM basement. It was genre-defying — a unique sound. But it felt perfect. It was a brilliant, successful album.
But it seemed to send Squarepusher down a strange rabbit hole, tenuously exploring the boundaries between live and studio-based music with ever-diminishing returns.
Time to change direction then. An email I received from Warp Records in November said:
‘Be Up A Hello’ sees Tom Jenkinson (Squarepusher) return to using a bewildering array of vintage analogue and digital hardware, the same equipment that first helped him develop his sound in the early ’90s.
By the way, the 14-year-old tune I’m referring to is Planetarium:
I have been using these calendar files for years. It’s a great way of keeping on top of things. There’s a calendar for almost every motorsport series you can think of. Add them to your calendar app for a simple way of knowing who’s racing when.
How Amazon appear to have had undue influence on the music charts. River by Ellie Goulding is this week’s number one, seemingly because Amazon have added it to their Christmas music playlists. So whenever anyone asked their new Alexa to play Christmas music, this new single got played — propelling it to number one.
This article also contains some interesting details about the pros and cons of different ways of compiling music charts in the streaming era.
If the voices of those clamouring for the charts to discriminate between “lean in” and “lean back” streams — i.e. those which the user has actively chosen to hear rather than simply being served up in a playlist — grow ever louder in the new year, then River will be held up as a shining example of why that needs to happen.
It may be a 52 minute read, but every word is worth it. An honest, and at times hilariously funny, piece about the reality of working as a western woman to cover a motorsport event in Saudi Arabia.
Town planners in the mid-20th century faced a big problem. The advent of the motor car brought increased congestion and safety risks. Planners wrongly thought that separating pedestrians and vehicles on different levels was the solution. If you know where to look, you can still see remnants of this thinking. Read full articleComment
Photo — 2019-12-20
Trying out the new pub near our flat. My cocktail came with chocolate coins!
It is human nature to add things, making them more complex. This feels like you’re doing something, but actually you’re probably making the situation worse.
We see this in web design. People like adding pages to their websites because it feels productive. But actually, the most effective websites are the ones with fewer, simpler pages.
The same can be true for any design, including the way we structure our work.
We often anchor around the wrong thing. That’s why some big institutions have no chance — they are hit by random plans and transformations rather than anchoring around purpose and iteration.
I found this a difficult election result to digest. Never would I have expected the Liberal Democrats to get fewer than 20 MPs, never mind with one fewer MP than at the last election.
Given that they increased their share of the vote, there is clearly a strategy problem at play. (My previous post suggests some serious organisational problems as well.) Uniquely, they increased their share of the vote in every region of the UK.
But it’s also difficult to escape the conclusion that voters are simply not interested in (or convinced by) liberal ideas at the moment.
It would be arrogant to assume that the voters are wrong. Yet, Jo Swinson was right to boldly stand up for liberal ideas of openness, tolerance and bringing communities together.
She is also right to highlight that Labour are every bit as dangerous as the other nationalist parties — the Conservatives and the SNP. Those parties are all dealing in the politics of easy answers — blaming others, and seeking to divide rather than unite people.
There’s a big challenge ahead. The ideas are not wrong, and we must fight for them. But liberals must figure out how to sell this story more convincingly.
I’ve been running on-and-off for about six years. But it was only a year ago that I took part in my first Parkrun. Since then, I have done five different Parkruns in four different locations. My aim was always to run a sub-25 minute 5k. But it somehow always eluded me — until the fifth one. Read full article6 comments
Photo — 2019-12-13
Today I’ve received a timely letter from the former leader of the Liberal Democrats. To give you a flavour, here’s the end of it.
Drivers had expressed doubts over the new constructions after testing the during the first practice session for the United States Grand Prix in November. They were given the chance to test the new compounds alongside the 2019 rubber at Yas Marina last week.
However that failed to ease concerns over the 2020 tyres. Following the test Romain Grosjean said the new tyres were not a clear improvement over the ones used this year.
How many more stories like this do there need to be before people start concluding that Pirelli simply aren’t up to the job of supplying tyres to Formula 1?