Archive — Design

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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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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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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The complex task of simplicityPaul Taylor

Sainsbury's Basics food packaging - washing powder, flower, canned tomatoes

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.

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Types of design focusBen Holliday

Useful definitions outlining the differences between user-centred design, person-centred design and human-centred design.

If user-centred design is more functional in terms of understanding and meeting needs. Person-centred design is more holistic. This means that it’s more focussed on emotional needs and goals. Human-centred design is then about thinking beyond individual needs and more towards the collective needs of a system, place, or community.

See also: When individual experience isn’t enough — what shared spaces teach us about the challenge and opportunity for user experience

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In storytelling and service design, easy is boringDaniele CatalanottoEnigma

Illustration of a rollercoaster

Why it may not always be right to design as smooth a journey as possible.

This idea seems counter-intuitive at first, but makes perfect sense on further reflection.

…people who had an issue with a service that was later resolved gave a better rating to it than people who didn’t have any.

It reminds me of a story (which I now cannot find) about someone who annually camped out for nights on end to get tickets for a particular event. One year, this person’s dedication was rewarded with free tickets. This gift offended the person. They derived their utility from the effort they were putting in (or perhaps in showing that effort to other people). The value was in the struggle.

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Note — 2019-11-14

IxDA Scotland logo

I’ll be speaking at the next IxDA Scotland community meetup about our user research with the Learn Foundations project.

Duncan’s talk will take us through how the University of Edinburgh’s User Experience Service has undertaken a comprehensive programme of user research supporting a project aimed at improving students’ experience accessing course materials digitally. Find out how they developed a programme of multiple user research methods to understand what students really need.

Time: Wednesday 4 December
Venue: Amazon Development Centre, 2–4 Waterloo Place, Edinburgh

Full details about the IxDA community meetup event

Maybe see you there?

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Repeat after me: Preference testing is not A/B testingDavid TravisUserfocus

Person holding up two photographs

Reasons why you shouldn’t simply ask users to choose which design they prefer.

It turns out people aren’t good at answering this kind of question. People don’t know why, or they don’t care enough to answer, or they may not want to tell you. When asked for an opinion, most people will form one on the spot. Such opinions aren’t carefully considered or deeply held. It’s not that UX researchers don’t care what people like: it’s just risky making important design decisions based on fickle opinions.

User experience isn’t about discovering what people think they want. It’s about finding out what they need.

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“The signs were completely radical”: Margaret Calvert looks back on her illustrious careerMatt AlagiahIt's Nice That

Illustration of Margaret Calvert

A wonderful interview with Margaret Calvert, who worked with Jock Kinnear on my favourite design — the system of UK road signs.

If you look on Wikipedia, it says we were “responsible for some of the road signs”. We weren’t – we were responsible for thinking out an entire system as well as designing how it was to be, the arrangement of the information and the pictograms that followed. It wasn’t just “some road signs” – that is such an understatement!

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The term “responsive web design” has failedFrances Berriman

Those words (originally from a slide by Alex Russell) may seem rather provocative. But it is a fair reminder that design isn’t just about how it looks.

In this case, most people (including, at times, myself) have fallen foul of the trap described here. That of thinking that setting a few breakpoints for smaller screens is enough to be responsive.

It reminded me of Jakob Nielsen’s 2012 article in which he advocated building a complete separate mobile site. This was a controversial viewpoint at a time when responsive design was becoming seriously trendy.

But seven years on, can we truly say the mobile web is a great experience?

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The tipping point: Who is best placed to do strategic design?Anish Joshi

If you can bear another article about whether non-designers should get involved in design work, this isn’t a bad one.

Designers — if you think strategic design is a realm reserved just for you, I’m afraid not.

Other professionals — if you think you can just pick up strategic design like any other general skill, then I’m afraid not.

…the best and most effective use and impact for many people, is actually just to incorporate design thinking techniques into their day jobs.

I have long held the view that user experience is best thought of not as a role, but as a mindset. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for professional designers and user researchers — there absolutely is. But anyone can adopt the techniques and set off on the journey to become more user-centred.

We should encourage more people to do so.

Via Katie Murrie.

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Marry data science with user research — ethical design depends on itTony Ho Trandscout

Illustration of Ovetta Sampson

Why do unethical products keep being designed? According to Ovetta Sampson, it’s because of an unnecessary disconnect between user researchers and data scientists.

…it’s easier to say, “I’m just the engineer” or ”I’m just the numbers guy.” It allows us to divorce ourselves from the responsibility of what that data can do to people.

See also: ‘What’ means nothing unless you know ‘why’

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Why much of the internet is closed off to blind peopleJames JeffreyBBC News

Visually impaired person using the web

The most notable thing about this article is the sorry list of weak excuses offered up by businesses who can’t be bothered to make their websites accessible.

“…a blind person can always ring Domino’s toll-free number and order that way…”
Why should they have to?
“…there is no clear objective guidance on what constitutes an ‘accessible’ website.”
O rly?
“The online environment was never intended to be covered by the ADA…”
Says who?

How about just doing the basics that will help include your customers, and your fellow human beings?

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The flowSimon Wilson

Self-checkout machines may seem like an easy target for critcism. But there’s a really interesting point here about what happens when people get used to a new technology, their flow changes — but the technology hasn’t updated to adapt to people’s new behaviour.

Happens all the time — people are used to these things but the machines aren’t used to what the people now do. I am here to correct the machines.

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Understanding design better by looking from different levels of magnificationNicola DobieckaWebsite and Communications Blog

Screenshot from Powers of Ten showing a man having a picnic

My colleague Nicola Dobiecka wrote this brilliant blog post about how designers need to take different approaches depending on the level they are working at. It builds on Jared Spool’s analogy with Charles and Ray Eames’ classic film Powers of Ten.

Essentially, colleagues at different levels of the organisation have different perspectives. All valid, but all require different skills and processes.

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First click tests — building up the elements of user experience for Learn FoundationsWebsite and Communications Blog

First click heatmap

We had developed an information architecture and tree tests as part of our programme of user research for Learn Foundations. The next step was to use first click tests to pit the new template against existing courses.

The latest post in my series for the Website and Communications blog about our user research work around the University of Edinburgh’s virtual learning environment.

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The double diamond, 15 years on…Cat DrewDesign Council

It’s 15 years since the Design Council came up with the double diamond, a model of the design process.

I find it useful as a general guide, although it does seem to confuse many people who assume it to be a strictly linear process. Recent conversations I’ve had at both the Service Design Academy and work have shown me that it remains a challenge to truly convey the complexity of a design process, and that the double diamond may in fact hinder this.

As always, it’s about having the right approach and mindset, rather than expecting an off-the-shelf tool or model to fix all your problems. Cat Drew’s article points this out:

But following a toolkit does not equal designing a good solution to the right problem. It is as much about the mindsets as the tools (e.g. being humble and open to ideas coming from everywhere and changing as a result of feedback, curious about what’s really going on and how things are working or not and working as teams rather than as a lone genius).

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Note — 2019-09-02

I’m doing a couple of talks this week. They are both about the user research we’ve been doing for the Learn Foundations project.

This evening I will be presenting at the Edinburgh UX monthly meetup. It’s a friendly meetup and it’s free, so do come along if you’re interested.

Then on Wednesday I’ll be presenting with my colleagues Karen Howie and Paul Smyth at the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) Annual Conference.

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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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