Archive — Personal

User research into the needs of students and staff using LearnWebsite and Communications Blog

Me running a workshop for Learn Foundations

Since September, my main focus at work has been to carry out a comprehensive programme of user research for a project aiming to improve services surrounding Blackboard Learn, the University of Edinburgh’s main virtual learning environment.

I wrote this blog post providing a high-level overview of all the work that’s taken place this academic year. More detailed blog posts about each of the strands of research will come in due course.

This is been a brilliant project to be involved in. We’ve been given a lot of time and freedom to do large amount of research in support of one of the university’s most important digital services, used daily by most of our students, and many staff members.

We have made some really important discoveries. This work is ensuring that improvements are based on a strong understanding of users’ behaviour and needs when working with course materials digitally.

Check out this video, where I describe the work and some of the findings in a bit more detail, and keep an eye out for the forthcoming blog posts.

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Improving student experiences in Learn: usability testing showcase and workshopInformatics Learning Technology Service

Prioritised usability issues

My colleague Alex Burford from the University of Edinburgh School of Informatics has written this great blog post about some usability testing we have conducted in support of the Learn Foundations project.

I thoroughly enjoyed working with Duncan Stephen on this mini project. The feedback was informative, encouraging, and a call to action. I’m looking forward to embedding similar practice across the School for alternative platforms for content delivery.

You can read my own reflections on this work at the Website and Communications team blog.

Each month we are working with a different school to conduct usability testing in Learn, the virtual learning environment, to inform improvements to the Learn service.

This is just one strand of a huge amount of user research I’ve been carrying out for the Learn Foundations project. It’s been a fascinating and very enjoyable project to work on. I’ve been pretty lax at writing about it yet — but I’ll be posting much more about it soon.

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Note — 2019-04-03

Update for email and WordPress.com subscribers

Last week I changed the address of my website to duncanstephen.net. It has taken a little longer for all my subscribers to migrate across — but you should be receiving my updates again now.

Here are the posts you missed:

Thanks for reading, and I hope you stick around!

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Photo — 2019-03-30

Burgundy European Union passport

It just so happened that my passport needed to be renewed this month. So I’ll have this burgundy European Union document for the next 10 years.

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Photo — 2019-03-20

People affinity mapping

I had a fabulous day at the Service Design Academy bootcamp yesterday.

It’s part of the PDA in Service Design. I never thought I’d be a student again. But I’m loving the opportunity to get stuck in and get talking to like-minded peers from other organisations.

It’s great to be back in Dundee again too! Looking forward to seeing what day two has in store.

Generating ideas

Generating ideas

Distilling our ideas

Distilling our ideas

View of V&A Dundee

The view from my hotel window

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Photo — 2019-01-16

'Duncan' hen party badge

Turquoise Hexagon Dunc.

Our super talented and creative friend Lucy made these badges for guests at Alex’s hen party last weekend. I’m delighted to have got my own.

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Note — 2019-01-06

It’s 10 years since Woolworths closed down. I worked there at the time. To this day, the whole experience is among the most surreal of my life.

At the time, I wrote a lengthy series of blog posts detailing my own story of the goings-on around the failure of one of Britain’s most iconic businesses.

Being on the shop floor while a British institution collapsed around me taught me a bit about business. But it taught me a lot about people. Enjoy this look back.

(These used to be linked to each other using a WordPress plugin, but these were lost during a migration — so here they all are.)

  1. Woolworths: The curiously British US-based company
  2. Woolworths as it was known and loved, and neglected
  3. Woolworths: Childhood memories and adult gripes
  4. It wasn’t just the credit crunch
  5. The blunder of Woolworths
  6. Identity crisis
  7. The beginning of the end
  8. The nasty side of human nature
  9. Woolworths: Final thoughts and wrapping up

For more on Woolworths 10 years on from its collapse, check out Graham Soult’s excellent report.

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UX your life: Applying the user-centered process to your life (and stuff) — JD Jordan, Smashing Magazine

UX your life: Applying the user-centered process to your life (and stuff) — JD Jordan, Smashing Magazine

I’m always in two minds about whether people should use work-based techniques on personal problems. I have heard of people using Trello boards at home to organise tasks, which sounds as nightmarish as it sounds sensible. I’ve even heard of people running scrum-style weekly planning meetings with their family, which definitely sounds overboard to me.

But I do like the look of some of the ideas here. For instance, I’m keen to map out out my life in weeks.

And I already know that affinity mapping can work great at home and for other stuff.

When we did the MoRun in November, Lauren and I made an affinity map to decide which of two runs to enter. My gut feeling told me another run would be better. But writing down all the pros and cons of each race, and grouping them, made it clear that my gut feeling was actually wide of the mark.

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Note — 2018-12-11

This week I found out I won’t make the cut of that Scottish independence referendum documentary I was filmed for a few months ago. Due to a change in editorial focus, apparently.

It’s actually a bit of a relief because, as you’ll see from the original post, I wasn’t entirely comfortable with how it panned out. I could actually do without any hassle resulting from being on TV.

When I texted Alex about it, her reply was: “Oh good!!!!” You know it’s serious when four exclamation marks come out.

When I asked why, she said, “I was worried about your political views being on the BBC.” (To be honest, I think we should worry about all sorts of other people’s political views that are allowed on the BBC these days, but there we go…)

Still, it was interesting to be part of the process, and good to know my blog could still get noticed in this sort of way.

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Making work meaningful: A leader’s guide

Making work meaningful: A leader’s guide

McKinsey report on how to engage employees.

People who find meaning at work are happier, more productive, and more engaged. Four practical interventions can help make the search more likely to succeed.

I am struck by how two of the four interventions listed are fundamentally about understanding your users better.

Reduce anonymity

Talk with employees about who their customers are, and encourage each employee to connect with one.

Build regular, face-to-face interactions with customers into existing processes, stimulating employees to learn who is most affected by their work.

Help people grasp the impact of their work

Invite customers who have had the best—and worst—experiences with your products to talk with employees in person so your team can see how their work affects customers.

Another reason why user experience is worth it.

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Photo — 2018-11-17

Me and Lauren after we completed the MoRun

This time last week, I ran the Edinburgh MoRun 5k with my friend and colleague Lauren Tormey. For a few hours only, I had a moustache. Definitely not my best look!

Me and my moustache

This is the first time I’ve entered a race. To my surprise, I finished 24th out of the 293 that entered the 5k race, with a time of 24:29. Not bad! Although I rather suspect this is because the serious runners had entered the 10k race. Or perhaps it was the aerodynamic benefits of having a moustache.

The route was the main road around Arthur’s Seat — a hilly route with 106 metres of climbing. So it felt pretty good to do my fastest run of the year here, as well as getting personal best times for a mile, a kilometre and a half kilometre (on the downhill bits of course, but still…).

To step up the challenge, people are suggesting I should start doing 10k runs. I’m not sure if I’m up for running regular 50 minute sessions to train for this… but watch this space.

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Photo — 2018-09-16

Louise, Alex, me and Jamie with our breads

Louise, Alex, me and Jamie with our breads

Alex and I took our friends Louise and Jamie to a bread making workshop as part of a wedding present.

Thank you to Colin at Bread in Fife, who led the class and was great fun to work with. Formerly based in Freuchie in Fife, he has since moved to Edinburgh — but remains called Bread in Fife.

We had fantastic fun making bread that we baked in a Dutch oven. We each had our own recipe to follow. I made a wholemeal loaf, Alex made a walnut boule, Louise made a white cob, and Jamie made a harvest loaf.

While waiting for the dough to prove, we made digestive biscuits. We also made a Russian bridie-like pie called a pirozhki, which contained an onion and egg filling.

Lunch for this week is sorted!

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The carrot is not important — Chasing it is

The carrot is not important — Chasing it is
“I’ve never had a goal”

Two related posts from Jason Kottke.

I think I fall into the camp of people who don’t want or need a goal. Alex once astutely pointed out that I will set myself a goal, then work towards it, and once I reach my goal, I stop.

Pedal for Scotland is a case in point. Last year I stopped cycling immediately after completing it, having spent all summer getting fit. Sure enough, I have done the same again this year.

I tell myself that it’s harder to cycle in winter, and Pedal for Scotland happens to fall at the point in the year where it’s getting darker in the evenings. But perhaps that’s just an excuse. I plan to start running and doing other forms of exercise to make sure I keep fit in winter as well.

Anyway, the point is, perhaps a goal is useless if you think of it as the only point. I love this idea — that chasing the carrot is more important than the carrot itself.

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Just write

Just write

Sara Soueidan on why you should just write, regardless of what the voice in your head may be telling you.

Start a blog and publish your writings there. Don’t think about whether or not people will like or read your articles — just give them a home and put them out there.

Most popular blogs I know started out as a series of articles that were written for the authors themselves, as a way to document their process and progress for their future selves to reference when they needed to.

Like Sara, I have found it difficult at times over the years to publish stuff to my blog, out of fear that it wouldn’t be good enough.

Over this past year I have committed to publishing something every day. It is not always high-quality. But doing so has been good for me, and has achieved most of what I had hoped for.

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Dundee’s renaissance — a personal, alternative view

Dundee’s renaissance — a personal, alternative view

Brian Taylor reflects on Dundee’s resurgence.

But mostly this renaissance is driven by the collective will of the people.

It is marvellous to behold.

Together, they have decided to stop apologising for their city. They have decided to revisit her ancient history and, hopefully, pursue her proud future.

See also: The city with grand designs

A fantastic piece on the history of Dundee’s creative renaissance, which has been decades in the making.

Congratulations and good luck to everyone involved in the V&A Dundee, which opens this weekend. I will be visiting later this month.

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Inventive tips for separating your job from your life when you work from home

Inventive tips for separating your job from your life when you work from home

I don’t work from home, but I still enjoyed this piece on little rituals that help you separate work time from personal time.

I’m glad of my 30 minute buffer between home and work. As I’ve said before, I wouldn’t reduce it. The walk helps me ease my way into the day, and gives me the headspace to prepare for what’s to come, or — if it’s the end of my day — what’s just happened.

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