Creative mix
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Is Digital Engagement living up to it’s hype?


Digital engagement is a huge trend right now and for companies that get it right there are massive rewards & gains to be made. A lot of companies have successfully implemented new systems and tools to create a more engaged and productive workforce as well as driving innovation.  The case studies are impressive and centred around positive outcomes that make it sound easy to achieve, and they are…sort of.

A far greater amount of companies have tried to put in a tool and failed to get the results.

Measuring success first

A figure I read put the failure rate at 80% for solutions that didn’t deliver the promised results. A bit of red flag when most companies in that survey did not even have a clear understanding of what their measurement criteria should have been. They were reading what others had a achieved and thinking a straight implementation would yield the same.

The result was disillusionment and a waste of budget as well as resources. Users abandonment of the new system and going back to the old ways of working with little or no progress created a reluctance to try again.  Reasons for the failure were multiple and interdependent; problems poorly understood (not investigated), too quick to roll out a solution, not enough insight, lack of preparation, lack of research, not understanding the roles and issues of the people who will be using the tools and no clear KPIs. The criteria must be set out at the very beginning before a proposed solution is even introduced.

Engagement rules

The clue is in the name. Engagement. These have to be engaging. What is engaging is some what subjective. You cannot lift and shift what worked in one organization into another. Because the problem may be similar wrong assumptions about company culture and readiness may render it useless. How you engage and motivate staff is more important than the tools. But there are ideas and learnings that can be explored.

If you don’t know what is causing the problem you cannot create a solution

The first step is to understand the underlying problems within the organization. Sometimes an outside perspective is good. Employees may be more ‘open to tell the truth’ about what is wrong if they know what they say cannot be held against them. The structure of the company and the way people work and interact as well as culture, attitudes and mindsets all need to be considered first and foremost.

Company culture matters

Every organisation has it’s own culture and issues to resolve.  Only once the problem is understood can you start to envision the solution. The solution needs to have a set of criteria in place that it will deliver on. Having a kick off workshop with the stakeholders to drive out and prioritize the criteria will get everyone working together and understanding the trade offs.  A mix of insight and  analytics for setting the creative against a number of themes such as: adoption, time management, response speed, innovation, cost reduction and out put for a breakdown of predictable and achievable metrics.

You cannot fool people for very long.

Humans cannot be fooled for very long with a few sparkly gimmicks. People may think it looks cool at first and even in initial testing proclaim, “this is great I will use this all the time”.  But then something happens. The novelty wears off and the decline of usage starts. I’ve head it said (as an argument against the research), “oh but the client likes it”. Sure the client likes it now but will they still like it in a year when the results start coming in. Better to have those difficult conversations now and get the model right.

Competition is not team work

Studies show that pitting people against each other with leader boards and levels will not work over time. After the initial thrill of competition it becomes negative and off putting. Those people without as much time to devote to it drop off and find them penalized. Some personality types who don’t like competition and/or losing will think it is better to stay out of it. Newer users see that they will never catch up and quickly disengage. Teams become more secretive instead of more collaborative if they see others profiting from their ideas but nothing coming back. Incentives cannot be competitive over longer periods of time. Occasional contests can be good but they need to be quick and fair. An element of digital engagement could be to remove red tape and level the playing field.

The right solution for the right situation

The right solution is end result. Selecting the right model of digital engagement for the organization and situation is key. It is not a solution looking for a problem.Take the time to the work first to understand the problem and explore different options. Start small and choose a problem to focus on and create a tailored solution that fits. Understand the users and their needs. A number of solutions can be added and delivered over time and integrated together to create smoother working practices and bring different parts of the organization together. The success measures at the beginning would identify which ones to focus on first and create a type of road map but this doesn’t mean that this won’t change and other ones make take priority.

Digital engagement projects need to be handled by a User Experience professional who understands how to create, test and measure effective web / mobile solutions. A good place for further information on the types of digital engagement projects available and case studies is Digital Engagement Org.



You are what you Tweet.

Everything you do on the web is recorded and leaving tiny digital footprints. We all know that tweeting while drunk is never a good idea and neither is being loose about your privacy settings. But if you have ever wanted to know what all your tweets would look like as an infographic then here is the answer according to Twitter and

If I were an infographic what would I look like?


UXLX: The Experience of UX Lisbon

Bill Buxton chatting to Bruno Figueiredo

Bill Buxton chatting to Bruno Figueiredo


UX Lisbon is a UX Conference that has excelled to become one of the best digital conferences. A huge congratulation goes out to Bruno who takes UX so seriously he plans everything in great detail to ensure his attendees leave as friends and have a fabulous time.  He and his team put together a fantastic conference of great food, wine tasting, dinners, great venue, great speakers and even a closing sunset cruise.

Lisbon is a wonderful city so getting out of  cold, wet, London did make the extra cost of flights, food and hotel nights more bearable. While a lot of attendees get sent by their company getting budget & permission in companies where UX is not widely understood can be itself a challenge. I went on my own steam because as a UX practitioner I cannot afford not to stay current. Our practice depends on it. This conference provides a unique opportunity to collaborate on an international level with three days of workshops and talks.

However, it is the subjects and the shared common understanding of what UX  at an international level that makes this a truly great conference. The majority of UX conferences seem to be either at an academic level or at the practical level of the “junior tool kit” of code and how to do wire frames. At the tool kit level there is always the bickering of which tool is the best or whether prototypes should be Axure or HTML which gets in the way of what UX is about.

Conference lounge area

Refreshing to be able to leave that down to personal taste and talk about the principles of UX at a thought leadership level. The attendees as well as the speakers are from all around the world giving the conference a true international representation. I enjoyed seeing speakers represented globally rather than all the same names.

The level of the attendees and representation of the UX community ranged from students to some of the biggest names in the industry. This makes it a fertile ground for getting to know what is happening in the wider industry. Some of the workshops and talks can be a bit basic and more of a subject matter introduction. My only suggestion would be to have more sessions aimed at the senior level to collaborate and cross-pollinate ideas as well as techniques. The more you talk to people and swap stories the more you get out of it. Fortunately this can easily be done over a glass of sangria!

The conference in Lisbon focuses on the creative and strategic aspects of UX. The tools are an open mind with a pen & paper.

Bill Buxton asked some one, in the audience, who confessed to using a stylus, “what is wrong with your finger?”.

Bill Buxton
Bill Buxton

Clearly a stylus in the mind of Bill  is unnecessary. He may have a point as we move into gestural input devices and others that borrow ergonomics from musical instruments. He presented a pre-palm pilot device based on the trumpet keys. I enjoyed this talk the most. Amazing how the Parc guys from the 70s are still the more interesting and relevant today!

I cannot say it enough…if as UX expert you are obsessed with coding standards then you are probably missing the big picture!

Having a common understanding of UX is critical. User experience practitioners need to develop understanding at an international level. Products aimed at international customers is more critical than ever as emerging market economies continue their rapid expansion. With Internet and mobile usage in particular, the recent adoption rates have been astronomical. We are all working now as part of a larger eco-system.

I found UX Lisbon very reassuring. At last we seem to be heading towards a Common Manifesto of What User Experience is.

Some key points I noted from the talks I attended were:

  • UX industry hampered by a lack of industry standard, formally trained UX Practitioners
  • More coming in from cross disciplines with poor UX understanding and focus on deliverable and tactical UX
  • More getting degrees in computer science instead of UX (focus on technical instead of human & design aspects)
  • Cultivate the large range of skills required [Arnie Lunds skills map]
  • Provide thought leadership, inspiration and strategy as well as build bridges between teams, clients and users
  • UX requires cross training to be multi-channel, multi-platform, trans-media and physico-digital
  • Expand creative thinking and take inspiration from music, dance, art, design. Feed the creative brain.
  • Champions are necessary as UX tends to get shut out of the executive level – some one needs to sponsor UX
  • Sketching…sketching…sketching
  • Mastering the art of being great story tellers and paying attention to the spaces, pauses and transitions.
  • Ubiquitous computing is pushing the boundaries and increasing the importance of UX
  • Multiple inputs, touchpoints, interfaces, devices and connections
  • Critical thinking and creative are the most important skills to cultivate
  • Expertise in social media, gamification, writing, planning content, persuasive design, user research, accessibility, mobile, usability is a given. No one should not be expert as this is business as usual now.

Greg Smith – User Research Director, eBay


What I enjoyed most of all was to exchange ideas and talk to like minded people and share stories.

The shared experiences is that UX can be highly frustrating as we are often pushing UX along in an uphill battle. When we are not arguing to get the value of it understood we are arguing to cut out the crap and stop shipping poor products with terrible experiences.

“Everything should be as good or better than Apple” – Bill Buxton. I have been saying this and it seems to still fall on deaf ears as there is almost always an excuse  of the user experience gets a low priority. Everything is a compromise and a mind field of constraints. One of the most common refrains is that there will be a next time or a phase 2. Steve Jobs may have been described as tyrannical but he made sure the UX was in phase 1.

The good news is that technology is no longer a constraint. The functionality and data has arrived. Everything is possible now.

New books for more food for thought

We need to work on the other barriers and fight for quality!

Then there is the constant fighting with product managers, resource managers and delivery people to stop the obsessive focus deliverables and make it about outcome. Good UX is hard but so rewarding and cannot be measured in hours and deliverables. UX people need to step out from behind computer monitors to develop their creative skills.

This is not the kind of conference where you walk around collecting gumpf from stalls. There were only a few high quality stalls selling UX books at 40% off, UX Pin (great tool for corporate workshops when I struggle to get people using crayons),

And after all that – Good UX is invisible. It is only the bad UX that is noticeable.

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Friday ended with the best custard tarts in Lisbon from Café Pastéis de Belém brought in for our mid-afternoon tea and followed by sunset cruise on a schooner.  This is not your usual conference!


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How idiots track success

From Gerry McGovern Presentation

HITS – How idiots track success

Gerry won hands down for the most entertaining talk. His definition of hits had everyone laughing. GUI is dead and the future is NUI (natural user interfaces). The majority of his talk was focusing on tasks rather than content and the need for simplicity.

  • Yahoo 2004. 255 links on the home page.

The Long Neck Versus the Long Tail  by Gerry McGovern

Web task management is about managing your website around top tasks. Success is measured on the ability of customers to quickly and easily complete these top tasks.

What is different about web task management? Traditional website management focuses on managing the technology and/or the content. Such website management approaches are generally project-based.

Under traditional web management models, for example, launching a search engine for the website is a project. Once that search engine is launched, nobody is made responsible for it and there are no quality measures for success. The search engine is simply left there.

These management approaches fail because they manage and measure the wrong things. If you manage purely from a technology point of view, then the technology itself becomes the focus.

Organizations often buy overly-complicated content management software because of the belief that if you buy the “right” software, you solve the problem. Only passing attention is given to what customers actually want to do on the website. The tool itself becomes the focus.

If you manage from a technology [content] perspective, then the metrics are nearly always volume-based.

Many senior managers are still quoting the utterly useless measure, HITS. (HITS stands for “How Idiots Track Success.”)

Suppose someone has to visit 20 pages on a website to complete a task, when with better management, they would only have to visit five? Thus, the more page impressions, the more frustrated customers become.

If a website has lots of repeat visitors, does that mean they couldn’t complete their tasks on their first visit? If a website has increasing search behavior, is that because the navigation is so confusing that people are forced to search?

What is success on the Web? Your customers being able to do the things they need to do quickly and simply. It is time to break away from the old measures of quantity, and focus on quality. Task management focuses on the quality of the customer’s experience.


For more on Gerry McGovern:

Molecular Thoughts
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How Social Media is Rewiring the Human Brain

Molecular Thoughts

Molecular Thoughts


The way we consume information effects our brains. This is not science fiction but the result of several studies of the effect of social media on the brain. There is a deep concern that the these changes may cause problems with concentration and that the younger generation will be “less likely to undertake deep, critical analysis of issues and challenging information.”

There is worry that this could also lead to problems with obesity, a need for instant gratification, lack of conversational skills, inability to analyse and problems with a sense of self. One of the effects of social media is the need to build a profile and create an online persona status that can seem narcissistic.

It is not just teens and twenty somethings that are risk but they are at risk the most.  This is because according to research their brains are still developing and will not be fully cognitive until 25+. Predictions on ways that technology is affecting teens is still ongoing.

Taken from the mind development stages by Dr Gregory Mitchell:

For most people Fluid Intelligence ceases to develop after the age of about twenty and starts to fall after the age of 25, unless an appropriate intervention is made to continue the mind’s active development. On the other hand, many dimensions of Crystallized Intelligence typically continue to develop throughout the life span, particularly in the individual’s chosen domain of work experience. But this can limit the individual to a perspective within narrow boundaries; creativity and wisdom demand a much wider perspective, in which a range of domains are interlinked.

A recent study from Elon University and Pew Internet, gathered research from over 1,000 stakeholders and 2,000 participants stated that “Teen brains are being rewired to adapt to the new information-processing skills they will need to survive in this environment.”

Susan Price, CEO and chief Web strategist at Firecat Studio and an organizer of TEDx in San Antonio, Texas, paints a more optimistic scenario:

“Those who bemoan the perceived decline in deep thinking or engagement, face-to-face social skills and dependency on technology fail to appreciate the need to evolve our processes and behaviors to suit the new reality and opportunities. Young people and those who embrace the new connectedness are developing and evolving new standards and skills at a rate unprecedented in our history.”

The good news is that in some ways this may be of benefit. As people will no longer be reliant on memorising and accumulating fact based knowledge the changes in cognitive processing may enable people to process information faster with greater cognitive abilities.

For anyone over 25 who is consuming social media and living and breathing digital there are changes happening as well. People who are adopters and learners will gain as well. The study points that some people will coast and be left behind as laggards. There are predictions also around for the development of new value structures away from “nostalgic items” towards a shift for new, novel and an experience led culture.

“People of all ages are adjusting to a world where ‘facts’ are immediately discoverable, and judgment between competing facts becomes a primary skill.”

Read the results of the study here.

angel tones

Mastering colour and the best resources for colour accessibility

Colour palette from

Colour palette from


Colour has always been an important part of design. It sets the emotional tones to stimulate feels and create a perception of warmth, luxury, cool, fresh, cheap or energy. Whatever brands want you to think. While colour may be a subjective issue,  colours also have a universal meaning. For example: blue is a cold color and red is a warm color.

It is the preference for certain colours that are subjective. The meanings of colours for luck, death, and others vary by different cultures.  In India, yellow is said to have been made from the urine of cows, force-fed mango leaves.

In mediaeval Europe whole towns rose on the profits from a plant that made a valuable blue dye.

Colour is not as static as we think it is. Colours in fashion  change and technology has an impact. The web safe colour palette was design for the internet and the way monitors display colour. That model is becoming outdated as the internet moves off  computer monitors and lap tops to tablets, the TV and onto glass.

Moving into internet tv and digital glass

Digital glass technology is getting closer to being released and with it augmented reality glasses, panels and any surface becoming a display. I wrote about this in a previous blog post “A world made of Glass”. These technologies change the way colour is presented. The 3D TV is also using colour differently. Up until now everything has been two dimensional and with an “implied transparency”.  The colours lack true purity.

magenta throated humming bird
Magenta throated humming bird

When choosing colours for a 5 step process I opted for a magenta (instead or red). There were the obvious problems of  using red and green together or worse using it as a background for text that would fall a foul of accessibility compliance. The colours need to work on all mediums and in presentations.

Anyone with a background in print design would view magenta as a primary colour, along with cyan, yellow and black. In printing a primary red is achieved by mixing in yellow and small amounts of blue.

In painting it is a similar thing because the medium does contain colour or “weight” and the colours loose purity. You cannot get a true magenta from mixing red with blue. Adding white and small amounts of blue will get close but it will not be a pure colour.

Is everything we have been taught about colour wrong?

The primary colours that we are used to using are not the only primary colours. Painters know you cannot get the colour Cobalt violet from mixing red and blue. The colour will be a dull muddy prune colour.

magenta as a primary colour

Petrônio Bendito's cololur model

Most of everything we have been taught about colour has to do with the mediums. If you ask a lighting director about colour you will get a different answer.

The RGB model which we have all been taught as web designer you get magenta by mixing green and red. In paint this is brown.

The way I was taught about colour is entirely different to today and where things are going. Some of the libraries and theories are the same.

Petrônio Bendito’s Master thesis ‘Perceptual Analysis of the RGB Color Cube’ has led to the development of a perceptual notation system. (see diagram) This notation has been greatly influenced by the works of Munsell, Birren, and Ostwald.

From Will Longaphie  “Everything you know about colour is wrong”

This is the basic 6-colour chart that most people are familiar with. I’m here to tell you this is completely wrong.

Primary colours

Below is what you would actually get if you mixed these primaries (yellow and red, red and blue, blue and yellow) together.


Tell me there isn’t something horrifyingly off here. Why do we teach this wheel to our kids when it clearly is so wrong in the first place?


No wonder so many people grow up afraid of colour in North America.

Now this colour wheel should make (visual) sense. You can clearly see how you can now move through this colour wheel to reach the next (logical) hue.

The problem with magenta

magenta flowers

Are the flowers to blame? 😉

The biggest problem is the prejudice over the idea of the colour pink. “Pink is for girls.” Magenta is a pink. Sexist ideas always come up with pink. This is not without some factual truth that girls and women do show a preference (in mass surveys) towards the pinkier shades.

One of the stories was of a prison in the US where the warden made the men wear pink overalls and live in a pink prison. He claimed it reduced problems with violence, fights and depression among inmates.

In design this could  be part the frontier of sexism as there is such a strong reluctance to exclude pinks except where the product is almost exclusively marketed to women or gay men. Considering a 50% of the population female and that women are the primary consumers it is time to focus on the reasons why people like the colour appropriately without the cliched stereotypes.

The other is a scientific point that magenta and purple do not appear in the rainbow because the colours necessary to produce them do not occur in the visual spectrum. This where the problem occurs as magenta is described as, “It is an extra-spectral color, meaning it cannot be generated by a single wavelength of light, being a mixture of red and blue wavelengths.” Specifically this wave lengths are outside the our visual range. Thus the rainbow is not a representation of all colours.  There is no purple in the rainbow.

Magenta and purple do occur in nature and are considered widely to be beautiful and rich colours.

Pinterest: Proving women love pretty colours

Artist and scientist Stephen Von Worley  used colour names from a massive color survey and turned it into a visualization of color names women and men use. The result? Women like a little metaphor: “coral,” “camel,” “dusty teal.” Men, on the other hand, go for the literal stuff: “blood,” “crap,” “mucus” (ie. anything in a Matthew Barney video).

One of the most popular categories on Pinterest is colour. If anything it has proved how much people love colour and more specifically images with harmonious colours. Harmonious colour combinations create feelings of comfort and serenity.

Pinterest colours

From the colour survey results  wrote “the color names most disproportionately popular among women” are:

  1. Dusty Teal
  2. Blush Pink
  3. Dusty Lavender
  4. Butter Yellow
  5. Dusky Rose

Looking at the image of Pinterest above it would seem he is correct. The overwhelming amount of images seem to be towards the dusky, buttery and dusty tones.

Pinks do feature a lot but perhaps this has to do with colours that are harmonious and create feelings of warm and comfort.

infographic link

Click on image to view full size image

Something I have been talking about for a long time is to use this to advantage to create retail (an online) experiences that meet the needs of women. The majority of household shopping purchasing decisions (apart from car and entertainment system) are made by women. Retailers have been slow to make their sites more sites female friendly.

However times are changing. Especially in home accessory shops. Retailers know this when creating product lines so that things co-ordinate. Some retailers like Brissi and Mason whole brand is a restricted palette of neutrals. The products for their shops are curated. In retail there is a symbiotic relationship between design and outcome in the number of sales. Certain colours sell out faster. Yellow and oranges are tricky colours for fashion and do not sell as well items in blue. A lot of men still avoid wearing pink or lavender shirts


From the Dog House Diaries

Some of the more commical observations from the survey were

  • If you ask people to name colors long enough, they go totally crazy.
  • “Puke” and “vomit” are totally real colors.
  • “Piss yellow” was a common colour for men.
  • Colorblind people are more likely than non-colorblind people to type “fuck this” (or some variant) and quit in frustration.
  • Nobody can spell fuchsia.


Design is mainstream, we are all curators

People have so much choice when it comes to the amount of shades available from everything from paint to kitchen cabinets in purple. The original pack of Crayola crayons contained 8. Bt 1971 the the number of colours had grown to 64. Now there are 120. Colours are now retired to make room for new colours.

Gone are:

  • Blizzard blue
  • Magic mint
  • Mulberry
  • Teal blue


The most recent additions are: 

  • Inch worm
  • Jazzberry jam
  • Mango tango
  • Wild blue yonder

Crayola colour chart

It is all to do with the power of colour on desirability. Colour is easier to change. Every season there is a palette of colour options. Designers know not to offer one but to offer 5 aimed at something for everyone. Packaging that is beautiful is more likely to end up in girls bathroom than a good product that looks cheap. It is why we now have “designer dish washing liquid” at £15 a bottle when the supermarket variety is about a £1.50.

What is colour harmony


The Munsell purples. Nothing rhymes with purple.

The relationships between colour and emotion have long been of interest to both artists and scientists.  In branding and marketing colour is used to evoke emotions to  create a desired feeling to  influence consumers’ behaviour. Colour helps enhance brand recognition and translates the intended visual impressions into the design elements of a product.

This also factors in common standards such as traffic lights, red for sale (colour of high visibility) the colours people associate with terms like – cheap, luxury, futuristic, retro. Numerous studies have been done as to how people are influenced by colour.

Kissmetrics made a great infographic on how colors affect purchases.Susan Weinschenk, Ph.D. in Psychology and author of Neuro Web Design: What Makes Them Click? (Voices That Matter), wrote an interesting piece about it. The McCandless Color Wheel can be downloaded from the bottom of her webpage.

Colour Munki has a tool for designers at that allows user to upload images and create and manage colour palettes. This is compatible with Adobe products and uses both the Munsell and Pantone libraries.

Colour Lovers for guides to creating colour harmonies

Colour systems for understanding how to work with colour

Albert Munsell saw balance as a key factor in determining colour harmony.  Albert Munsell was keenly aware that a practical theory of color did not exist. From his own work and experiments, he developed the Munsell Color System. Using his system made it possible to discuss color scientifically.

colour game

He defined color in terms of Hue, Value and Chroma. Hue was defined as the actual color, red, blue, green, etc. Value was defined as how light or dark a color is. Chroma was defined as how strong or weak a color is. He published a standard color atlas defining the Munsell Color Standard which, before his work, had been an impossible task.His work was embraced by the scientific community. In 1914 he was invited to present his findings to the scientific communities of England, France and Germany. His theory is still taught today and the system is available at

There is a great game that illustrates clearly hues, shades and saturation

Click on the image to see if you can beat my score.

Sensitivity to Colorblind Deficiencies

Almost men in every have some type of colour deficiency. In the last few presentations I have done I have asked if anyone had a problem distinguishing between red and green. My findings have supported this. For this reason even my presentation material is compliant. The last thing I want to be doing is talking about usability and accessibility with material that does not support the needs of my audience.

The biggest sin is to use colour alone to differentiate items. The web is needs to be used by all people. Most web designers are sensitive to the needs of users and avoid using certain colours and combinations for text, if only to be compliant with the disability act.

Success Criterion 1.4.3  of WCAG 2.0  requires the visual presentation of text and images of text has a contrast ratio  of at least 4.5:1, except for the following:

  • Large Text: Large-scale text and images of large-scale text have a contrast ratio of at least 3:1;
  • Incidental: Text or images of text that are part of an inactive user interface component, that are pure decoration, that are not visible to anyone, or that are part of a picture that contains significant other visual content, have no contrast requirement.
  • Logotypes: Text that is part of a logo or brand name has no minimum contrast requirement

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) have been created to enable web developers to create accessible content. Part of these guidelines are related to creating good colour contrast and ensuring that foreground content stands out from background content.

Most of it should be common sense as you can see when colour contrasts are not sufficient or  the chroma values are too similar. Chances are it does not look great either with orange text on a blue background. Would you want to read it?

  1. Colour blindness simulator
  2. How people with disabilities use the web.
  3. A lovely air tool for viewing colours for accessibility 

In the  illustration below this depicts why green and white is a tricky combination. The green shade would need to be very dark, towards the “forest green” shade, in order to be compliant. This is why most web designers include a key line and some shadowing on link buttons as well as a rollover state.

The orange shades suffer the same fate and need to be almost brown. Pink, blue and purple all have brighter shades that pose no problem. This is because it is extremely rare for people not to be able to “register” blue.  You can have black text on all “pure” colours except red.

It is a myth that cats and dogs are colour blind. There are more like the 8 men in every hundred which have some sort of colour deficiency. They are not colour blind, just unable to see the full spectrum.

The most common one for males is include red & green vision deficiency. This is not true colour blindness. True colour blindness is extreme with only shades of grey visible. This is found in people with Monochromacy/Achromatopsia which is very rare. Blue is the easiest colour. Shades of blue are also the most easiest for mixing and matching in a one colour scheme. All of the other colours – pinks, oranges, reds, purples and greens can clash depending on the shades chosen. For men it is by far the most popular colour for clothing.

White and green a tricky combo for accessibility
White and green, a tricky combo for accessibility.  










American Bulldog. Portrait on a grey background

The role of UX ethics in a “dog eat dog” world.

Any sane person would want a heart doctor to collaborate with other heart doctors and participate in the wider world about new discoveries, techniques and procedures. That helps create great and up to date doctors with the latest skills. It is the same with UX. When UX becomes a competitive skill that requires us to be secretive the whole industry loses.

There needs to be some collaboration and discussion among industry professionals, in order to lift UX up into the profession it needs to be. This is not about putting away our competitive differences and telling secrets.

Like most professions, people choose do it because they love it. For a lot of people UX  is a lifestyle.

When I no longer love what I do and cannot bother to keep up I will get out. Not that I can see that possibility coming in the near future. UX is in exciting times. The learning never ends and it requires continually building up skills & expertise as the world of digital changes.

Staying sharp is a high priority.

A rusty knife kills patients and leads to malpractice.

There can still be assignments when you have to ask yourself am I the right person to be doing this? What does this say about me as a UX professional to compromise standards or principals? Am I qualified to do undertake this? Am I over qualified (and too expensive) to do this?

When you feel you cannot do an assignment justice you need to be able to say so and either get support or gracefully decline. This may even be for other reasons such as moral or conflicts of interest. In advertising there were two product briefs that I refused to work on for moral grounds. This was fortunately not an issue for my employers as it was pretty clear cut and others had also refused.

If an assignment is really that removed from yourself as a UX professional then it is not the right assignment to accept. You do not have to “love each assignment” but if you hate it and are not growing as a practitioner you need to consider what the repercussions would be.  Taking a considered approach and thinking what is in the best interests for everyone concerned.

The trickier part is how you manage yourself and ensure you are providing the best possible service while juggling the economic needs. Take a long term strategy and look around at what is happening and think about where you want to go. Assignments that take you off your path also can have unwanted consequences.  Going down the wrong road  can lead to a career “cul de sac”. You will be doing more harm than good for yourself and the client in the long term.

As a manager this means giving people the type of projects to build their career as well as ensure they are growing and delivering to high standards. It is all about ensuring that as professionals provide our clients with an unbiased and uncompromising quality of service. When we  start putting the long term benefits, value and the greater good first we all reap the rewards.

It is worth revisiting and reminding ourselves as to what we signed up for with the  Usability Professionals Association  code of conduct:

  • Act in the best interest of everyone
  • Be honest with everyone
  • Do no harm and if possible provide benefits
  • Act with integrity
  • Avoid conflicts of interest
  • Respect privacy, confidentiality, and anonymity
  • Provide all resultant data


1 Act in the Best Interest of Everyone

1.1. Usability practitioners shall be aware of relevant standards, principles, and generally accepted usability methods

1.2. Usability practitioners shall undertake professional assignments only when qualified by education or experience.

1.3. Usability practitioners shall provide products and services that match the operational and financial needs of clients and employers.

1.4. Usability practitioners shall undertake ongoing efforts to develop and maintain their competence.

1.5. Usability practitioners shall seek and use peer review as well as provide critical review of the work of others whenever appropriate. Usability practitioners shall make reasonable efforts to avoid offering excessive or inappropriate financial or other inducements for participation in usability activities when such inducements are likely to coerce participation.

2. Be Honest with Everyone

2.1. Usability practitioners shall not knowingly mislead a client or potential client about the suitability of a product or service.

2.2. Usability practitioners shall give recommendations that are objective, consistent with accepted principles, and/or based on the judgment of qualified professionals.

2.3. Usability practitioners shall never deliberately misinform or mislead individuals for whom they are providing services.

2.4. Usability practitioners shall credit the intellectual property right of work, methods, and tools done or created by others in such a way that all parties involved are always clear as to the origin of such and the rights of the usability practitioner to use or cite such work, methods or tools.

3. Do No Harm and If Possible Provide Benefits

3.1. Usability practitioners shall not expose participants to any unreasonable physical, mental or emotional stress.

3.2. Usability practitioners shall take reasonable steps to avoid harming their clients or employers, study participants, and others with whom they work, and to minimize harm where it is foreseeable and avoidable.

3.3. Usability practitioners shall review for special needs when working with the elderly, the disabled, and children. Precautions taken to avoid risks associated with such groups shall be clearly identified and reviewed by the client or employer.

4. Act with Integrity

4.1. Usability practitioners shall work in a spirit of respectful collaboration and cooperation with those with whom they interact without compromising their personal or professional integrity.

4.2. Usability practitioners shall not discriminate against their clients, colleagues, or participants on the basis of age, gender, gender identity, race, ethnicity, culture, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, socioeconomic status, or any basis proscribed by law.

4.3. Usability practitioners shall not make public derogatory comments about their clients, colleagues, or participants.

4.4. Usability practitioners shall never knowingly use material that is illegal, immoral, or which may hurt or damage a person or group of people. If exposed to illegal material, the usability practitioner shall advise their client or employer of the illegal nature of the material and take reasonable steps to inform the relevant authorities of the existence of the material.

5. Avoid Conflicts of Interest

5.1. Usability practitioners shall avoid all known conflicts of interest with their employers or clients and shall promptly inform their employers or clients of any business association, interests, or circumstances that could influence their judgments or the quality of their services.

5.2. Usability practitioners shall not accept any assignments that would knowingly create a possible conflict of interest between themselves and their clients, employers, or participants.

5.3. Usability practitioners shall advise clients and employers when a proposed project is not in the client’s best interest and provide a rationale for this advice.

6. Respect Privacy, Confidentiality, and Anonymity

6.1. Usability practitioners shall not reveal information that identifies colleagues or participants without their permission and shall take reasonable precautions to avoid such information from being disclosed unintentionally.

6.2. Usability practitioners shall ensure that participants in any study provide informed consent for use of all data collected.

6.3. Usability practitioners shall never disclose in their writings, reports, teaching materials or other public media or otherwise make public any information they have acquired about persons, employers or clients in the course of their professional work unless disclosure is both legal and that they have either taken reasonable steps to disguise the identity of the person, employer or client, or they have the express permission to disclose.

7. Provide All Resultant Data

7.1. Usability practitioners shall choose participants and tasks so as to ensure the validity of the results.

7.2. Usability practitioners shall consider the limitations of every usability project they plan or carry out and if requested or if in their view the limitations render the results questionable, shall communicate the results of this analysis to their client or employer.

7.3 Usability practitioners shall accurately report both the positive and negative feedback from usability activities.

It does not have to be a “dog eat dog world”.



A World Made of Glass

A World Made of Glass


Thank-goodness Ground Hog Day is over. Today there was an interesting conversation about what UX is. Really is. At the core. It is not about UI. It is about the principals of what experience is. There is no optimum interface for experience. There are no rules. There are no boundaries. No magic technology. No easy quick fixes. No recipes. There is only possibility. It is all about the user and the power to dream.

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Ground Hog Day UX Crazy Style

ux crazy people

The UX Crazies are so focused on the UI they completely miss the point.

This year UX has really grown up. We have had convergence, gamification, tablets, internet TV, handheld scanners (and all manner of devices) and now we are truly in the Pervasive UX territory.

The UX community has really come together and it is all about collaboration and working towards a UX Manifesto as well as better credentials and education.

The Creative Age has started and with it Disruption.

Even after a year full of progress and it can still seem like you are right back where you started from. In my case it is dealing with those old, wacky UX Crazies again.

UI is not UX.

This relentless focus on the end deliverables and confusing it with UI completely misses the point.

One of the biggest challenges is changing the misconception in organisations that  User Experience [UX] is about producing a user interface [UI]. It is not. It is a “value proposition”. It is far greater than the sum of the deliverables.

You cannot tell what good is by merely looking at something. It must be tested and measured. UX is not a form page or a single web page. You cannot compare web pages to illustrate what good UX is. That is only the UI.

This misunderstanding has come from the roots of UX. Most UX people started out as Information Architects (others designers or developers) where we created deliverables such as site maps, wireframes, usability test reports, prototypes and personas. This was one “cog in the machine” and the next step was handing these off to designers & developers to complete the process.

We have done a great job at selling in the need for these IA deliverables. These deliverables are still  relevant to communicating the user experience  but this is also where the problem lies. It is no longer about the deliverables. The old notions of IA/UI development are now way past their sell by date. It is about the total user experience and having measurable results.

The User Centric nature of User Experience provides companies with a view from the outside looking in. Almost all the other rolls BAs, developers, clients, technical architects are looking at the internal workings.

The Pillars of the User Experience

  • User Experience Strategy: This is not the same as digital strategy as user experiences are more pervasive
  • User Experience Research
  • User Experience Design: This includes emotional factors, brand experiences, creative and conceptual models
  • User Experience Architecture


I have left UX Development off the list as development happens in the delivery cycle. It is of course important to consider and make sure sure there are inputs from development just as you would the technical architecture, business strategy, digital strategy, business analysis and the market forces.

The UX  is about getting to a UX  road map to then inform the development team who will be responsible for taking the vision and developing the user interfaces for the various devices.

The upfront UX needs to be thoroughly thought out and also light weight in terms of the amount of  to avoid being Big Design Up Front or BDUF if working in Agile.


UX development has had a big change too and the main one is that it is not about HTML and building webpages. The world has moved on. Development is about having specialists that know how to transform the UX blue print into code for the various devices – browsers, tablets, mobile, handheld PDAs and so on.

The UX  is about getting to a UX  road map to then inform the development team who will be responsible for taking the vision and developing the user interfaces for the various devices.

Developing experiences that are appropriate for various types of media and platforms needs to be done by specialists who’s day job it is to program and write development code. This may be multiple developers who have device specializations. It is not a roll for a UX designer who dabbles in a bit of code. The experience will always be compromised by the person who’s job it is to deliver the code.

This may not even be about devices. It could also be back end technologies or CMS systems. There are many incidents where the UX was changed or had to be compromised because the people implementing it did not have the necessary skills or experience. It is important to have the experts brought in at the beginning and to keep continuity by continuing to provide guidance and steer the project.

Explore and constantly evolve the target audience

This is about getting to know the intended users but also looking  at potential influencers. Too often the focus is just on the primary consumer of the product or service. In fashion for example because brands tend to be aspirational the wider community have a lot of influence. Therefore you need to include non-consumers in your target audience such as the bloggers, journalists, fashion students etc. Ideally delivering a brand experience should be consistent. This is also the shift towards pervasive UX in which I used an example of my hotel stay. My experience changed when I was no longer a buyer.

User Experience is about building the values of the brand into the entire experience. The whole design experience is about creating a language to deliver the brand message in an engaging and purposeful way. It is not about window dressing.

Dream big. Imagine all the possibilities

UX is about the divergence and convergence of concepts (ideas, principals, goals, aspirations), framework (IA, structures, mental models, scenarios) and the high level design (emotional factors, persuasion, personality, branding, visuals).

Mind the Gap. UX needs to build a bridge between what the system and business must deliver and what the end user expects.

Goals Concept

UX considers the goals, aspirations, dreams ambiltions and the purpose of the end user or consumer

There are consequences for poor UX. On internally facing IT systems the consequences are often ignored because they require work to figure out how bad the damage is.  Having users spend extra minutes or making repeated errors while trying to complete tasks is not seen as a big problem. However if some one were to say calculate that total and say that it was costing the company over a £1 million in lost revenue a year then it would be a huge problem.

Pervasive design is about looking at the entire journey of the end user and helping to uncover unmet needs as well potential business opportunities.

User Experience Practitioners perform user research to get into the mind of end user (and consumers).  The primary purpose is to ensure the proposed solution is fit for purpose and will meet the user needs for usability. That is a given now. What is not widely subscribed to is that this research can be used to gain competitor advantage and also exploit new opportunities that may come as a result.  User research is a lot more than validating user experiences for usability and informing design decisions.  User Research when combined with prototyping can be the new R&D department or create a road map of future business opportunities.

This is about designing a user experience across all touch points of the brand or product.

Pervasive UX goes further than the screens it is the complete end to end journey – which may include multiple devices and tasks. Whether you call this service design or process re-engineering it is core part of creating the UX.

“Every design decision… contributes to the behaviour of the masses, and helps define the culture of our society. This describes an enormous opportunity for designers, one that is rarely realized. We are, quite literally, building the culture around us; arguably, our effect is larger and more immediate than even policy decisions of our own government. We are responsible for both the positive and negative repercussions of our design decisions, and these decisions have monumental repercussions.”  Joh Kolko

Aligning the needs of the user to the functional system and influencing the priority of requirements

With an understanding of the pain points of users and what they need and desire you can assign these values and align them to the plan for the roll out of features. Too often it overlooks how simple it is to add value and make improvements and avoid costly features that users do not need or want. When the business goals and the user goals are merged  along with the “workstack” it provides a much more joined up approach to delivery and the team is working as one and not at cross purposes.

Providing general consulting skills on user behaviours

UX practitioners are constantly keeping up to date with latest trends in online and digital behavior on everything from devices to the latest big thing like Pinterest. This knowledge can be used stimulate and generate ideas to better engage with end users.

So where do we go from here

This is about continuing to share knowledge and collaborate. As Daniel Pink says there has never been a better time to be a designer or creative thinker.

Pervasive design is about the bigger picture not the small stuff.

It would be great to get past Ground Hog Day and say good-bye to the UX Crazies once and for all. However that is looking more and more unlikely as I have witnessed a entrenched reluctance to join the party.

At least I have a big UX network to help me keep my sanity and tonight I am very much looking forward to discussing Pervasive UX tonight with Brian Hoadley.

The UX Crazies can stay forever in ground hog day. Time to leave them in a trail of dust.

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Wave Goodbye to the Old Kings of Creative


I started my career in the late 70’s as an illustrator, while I studied design. My first clients were those cartoon maps, posters to get into clubs and some books for FitzHenry & Whiteside aimed at children. I was successful to earn enough to live on but it was a bit hand and mouth compared to corporate design which I moved in to.

I won awards for designing logos, books and annual reports. I drooled over the paper samples the paper companies gave me. Getting a budget big enough to buy some incredible paper to make my designs shine through was fundamental. Getting a big enough budget to be able to print on a metalic or glossy finish would give my designs the finishing edge for victory.

You worked blind. You needed to imagine what it would look like as a finished product. There was no way of seeing it until it rolled off the press and the ink dried!  The absorbency of the papers would have an impact. I used to swap out the standard yellow for a fluorescent yellow when I wanted to give the colours an extra pop. I back filled black with 100% cyan. Another other trick was double printing black and mixing gloss and mat. On an annual report that was costing $250k to print I gambled on printing faint blue lines to help hold a metallic silver and dark grey over tint.

I remember another AD printing using a 85 dpi screen on heavy textured raw paper and having a font that had a .5 pt outline text to be overprinted on images. I cringed when I saw the comps and tried to tell her it would be a mistake. On a glossy cast coat paper at 200 dpi + it may have worked. Unfortunately for her, she was a Mega-Bitch. After working too many late nights and weekends as her junior-slave I gave up. What a disaster! I did have a small smile at seeing her comeuppance of not taking more care on how it was going to be printed.

Thee paper companies themselves sponsored a lot of the print awards. Coffee table books were huge sellers and you could make a name for yourself designing these.

Logos were big business. A 1/4 million for a logo? No problem. Top designers were almost Godlike with their name on the studio door.  G. Ryan Design. G was for Gerald my hero and boss. His collection of Jaguars was eye dropping and it was fantastic to work in an old warehouse in a crumby part of town with a 150 of the coolest hipster designers you could meet. The other thing to getting that award was hiring a top notch illustrator and again that was down to budget. It was a repeatable formula.

When it comes to design and print the budget to spring for innovative printing techniques and cool papers are almost everything for creating The Kings of Creative.

In the mid- late 80’s I got involved in adverstising. It was also about budget. Working with Pete at BBDO on the TV spots for Colubmia music we knew we were onto a winner when we were given carte blanche with a massive budget. The budget was so big we had a 32 piece orchastra to entertain us (and provide music) for 4 consecutive mornings along with our morning glory cocktails. We felt like Kings.

BBDO had the biggest brands (and budgets) and BBDO grabbed a whopping 40% of all the awards that year. The King pin of them all was Mike Rutherford, the CD. The parties for advertising art and directors were legendary. A lot of these would be hosted by photographers (we each had our favourites) and these would be filled with models, advertising execs, creatives and out clients of course. We used to use the company limo to run errands like pick up more sushi. Sandwiches yuck!

I was an Art Driector and very ambitious but I got a wake up call when I was told point blank by Mike, that because BBDOs biggest accounts were cars (Crysler), beer, sports shoes (Adidas) and computers (Apple, Hewlette Packard) I could forget ever working on those on the account of having breasts. Not that he would remember me by anything another other than the one with the tits.  The fact that I had already won an award for Hewlette Packard for some direct mail work did not count because that was when I was a designer and was not in the same league.

In advertising cars, beer, sports brands and tech products create kings because they have the biggest budgets and the noisiest presence.

Eventually I tired of 80 hour weeks and having team meetings at the Brass Rail (a strip bar in Toronto) on Wednesday afternoons watching the lap dancers writhe on the laps of my male co-workers and decided to go into digital. Digital didn’t exactly set the world on fire at first and was looked as career move DEATH . There were no awards, limited creativity and not a lot of clients.

To the creative minded and visionary digital with the constant change offers unlimited potential.

The world of digital is more complex and has become almost a game of two halfs. The first half is the agencies that have sprung up in the guise of marketing, communications or advertising and believe it is the message that matters. Content is king. The (content) message of course is about ensuring that bigger brands get an even bigger market share and consumers consume more. This still the the world of the Old Kings of Creative. The creative and art directors (mostly white males)  are still coming up with ideas for bog roll and winning awards (sponsored by companies within the same industry as their own). It is also not surprising that clients who give their creative teams carte blanche and healthy budgets also have a clear advantage over those less fortunate and having less scope.

The second half has been what is happening in the Enterprise Sectors – Apple, Google, Facebook, Twitter, eBay… etc. The game changers. Here functionality is King. You cannot compare the success of Facebook (which is still a website) with a site for toilet paper. It is the game changers that have made the biggest impact. We would still buy toilet paper whether there was a website to promote a particular brand experience.

Now as the web has truly grown up it is no longer digital media. It is digital life. Functionality and experience are inseparable.

Creative now sits under User Experience in most of the bigger companies. Customer experience is also merging with user experience. The message is all about the user and bridging the gap between what the Brand or services deliver and what end users expect.

User Experience is not about coming up with ideas and throwing it to a wall to see if it sticks. User Experience is about applied insight and becoming the new R&D lab to test ideas and push innovation that predicts what users need.

It is all about performing research, analytics and analysis to deliver a great experience. I certainly for one am glad I am no longer working blind. The AD that did not forsee the 85 dip problem with a .5 hairline got sacked and rightly so. The design may have cost $10k to produce but the high volume printing would have been £250k+.

The old kings of creative are on the way out and so are the titles CD and AD eventually as
UX continues to evolve.

If you want to know who the new Kings are, it is the end user sitting in front of his Internet TV (or mobile, tablet, browser etc).



It is always about the future

This week I am doing two talks on the subject, The Future of UX. It is a very broad topic and you cannot do it justice in 20 minutes. It is both open for debate and a moot point, because UX is always about the future. You cannot predict everything. Content is so ubiquitous that users can find similar two clicks away.

User research has been mostly about historical information and that needs to change. The internet is dying as we know it. It is about to be replaced by a web of things – devices, services, agents and all manners of interfaces.

10 years ago content was a destination and websites were about creating and retaining users. The web is now more distributed. Less than 8% of users enter from the hope page. Yet many websites are designed top down. I remember having this argument at an Agency in Chelsea when I was working on a large hotel, entertainment, restaurant chain, leisure services etc. project. A top down system with narrow user-journeys would have been missing the point.

Users are also touching the brand in a lot of different ways. We finally got to the point where silos generally though of as bad idea, only to replace them with chanels.  This now goes further with ECRM gurus and Social Media wizards. Looking at eBay the apps are leap frogging Is there anyone in the organisation that is responsible for the over all user experience? When we talk about multi-chanel we still tend to talk about it as one chanel at a time.

A couple fellow UXers and I were listening with intent at a debate at the next table about Ubuntu and how they are switching application menus as well as their forays into TV.

Yeah it is always about change. In case you have missed it. The web as we know it is dead!

The web as in browser based dominance of IE on  PC or lap top is becoming extinct. The only people who seem to spend any amount of time browsing the web on those are “locked in office workers” using as their escape window to the outside world.

The world of the consumer is likely to be interacting on mobile devices, internet TVs and tablets as well as the glasses which are coming out now. The world now is a world of gestures, language and thought. We have truly moved into the Creative Age.

please install flash

Star Hud Augmented Reality Glasses

No UX person finds this scary, UX people are natural explorers. It is our job to do the research and create experiences.

I for one welcome this news.



digital leap

Digital Leaps Forward & The Department of Disruption


This year on Leap Day I will be giving a talk on the future of User Experience at LBi. LBi certainly knows their stuff and has put together a fantastic panel. I feel very privileged and honored to be a part of it.

Digital Leaps Forward – What is next in Experience Design

Please come along. It is going to be a fantastic day!

The Department of Disruption

The move to federated platforms, multiple devices, open data and the web of things has created the perfect storm. We must be able to face challenges that we can’t even imagine yet. How do you get a single view of the end user or customer when they are no longer limited to web pages or the devices that we design for? We often talk about trends like Social Media or Gamification as though they happen in isolation while at the same time telling our clients not to let their internal structures operate as silos. Who owns the user experience when it there is no overall authority across all the user touch points of a multi-channel system design?

It is an understatement to say that convergence between computers and consumer electronics is escalating, creating challenges and opportunities for both businesses and consumers. New devices that operate using gestures and augmented reality glasses are not pipe dreams of the future they are happening now. User Experience is moving from a tactical discipline about ensuring usability, into a strategic discipline about creating move pervasive experiences and creating, evaluating, researching and prototyping new business models.

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The Social Media Governance Forum


This February I will be speaking at The Social Media Governance Forum, which I am really looking forward to.

The Social Media Governance Forum, in association with Capgemini and Sidley Austin is delighted to bring together six speakers to share their stories about social media governance.

  • Nina Barakzai (EMEA Privacy Counsel, Dell)
  • Lee Bryant (MD Europe, Dachis Group)
  • William Long (Counsel, Sidley Austin)
  • Windahl Finnigan (Head of User Experience & Creative, Capgemini)
  • Ben Page (CEO, Ipsos Mori)
  • Richard Sedley (Commercial Director, Foviance)

The six speakers bring very different perspectives on the notion of social media governance reflecting, perhaps, the many varied challenges and opportunities that are being faced daily. The way business is conducted, customers communicating with each other or knowledge shared is changing.

As The Cluetrain Manifesto said in 1999:

‘A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter – and getting smarter faster than most companies’

Different currencies are emerging in response to this ‘global conversation’, requiring people and organisations to draw on or learn new or different literacies. Sharing stories is one way to help all of us learn these literacies.

The event takes place

17th February, 9.30 – 11.30

Venue: Capgemini, 40 Holborn Viaduct , London EC1N 2PB, 8th Floor

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Crossing the Social Media Rubicon into The New Digital Mindset

The kids are growing with social media as a fact of everyday life.

There is a big discussion about where UX is going and about the impact Social Networking is having. When it comes to Social Media we have crossed the Rubicon (metaphorical point of no return). There is no going back. There is nowhere to hide. Social Media and the explosion in tools in the last of 6 months have changed the industry. Some people also argue it is changing our brains as well as our entire ways of working.

Thomas Power has a 16 minute video, called “Do you have a digital Mindset“. He talks about the new mindset and proposes we think hard about 3 words; open, random and supportive.

Old Mindset: Closed, Selective & Controlling
New Digital Mindset: Open, Random, Supportive

What is happening is the amount of information and the addiction to information as well as new skills such as filtering or curating.

We are curators now

This has part of the story of what we has UX people have to get to grips with and understand at a detail level. Understanding how people consume information as well as the underlying systems and being about to create memorable and meaningful experiences. Social media is not a role. It is becoming a part of all of our lives. To ignore this and not be a part of it is foolish. The only way to understand the phenomena of social media and include it in our solutions is to become a part of it.

The new digital mindset is changing companies to become more open as well. Nowhere is this more evident than digital. Employers and clients want hard evidence that they are buying value. Value is what UX Consultants bring to a project. Anyone who tells you that it is about producing deliverables (wireframes, site maps) is wrong. It is the thinking – understanding users through research, analysis, measuring and creating meaningful experiences.

People work with people. Companies are collections of people. The last year has seen a dramatic change in the social business. Clients are wanting to know “who” they are getting. In UX it is about having the right expertise with the hard evidence to back it up. Reputations are built on what you have done, not what you say you are going to do. This is why portfolios, qualifications and CVs miss the point. They can only show the past. Social media is making it more about the thinking and the level of communication required.

Social Media is about:

  1. Visibility
  2. Connections
  3. Collaboration
  4. Feedback

I had a conversation about how I noticed clients and potential clients were looking at our Linkedin CVs and I found it funny when I was told “that clients should not be Googling people and should just read the bio as supplied”. Oh those naughty clients how dare they use Google. 😉 Of course who can blame them when they get bland descriptions written in the third person.

There is an upside to all of this. There is no longer a market for blaggarts and bullies.

Even on a Sunday the question came up, Do you know “so and so”. This was in relation to some one I once worked with applying for a job with a friend of mine.

I am digitally distinct! Visit

mobile cloud summit

Mobile Cloud Summit Panel

Along with some distinguished panelists Brian Hoadley, James Clarke of Thin Martian, andJules Ehrhardt of ustwo, I spoke at the  Mobile Cloud Summit on Evolution of the Mobile Cloud, which looked at the impact of Mobile Cloud on User Experience..

This one day summit prompted a lot of interesting discussions.

I hope you enjoy watching the panel:



Staying hungry and foolish.

steve  jobs


Steve Jobs changed my life for the better. I started out as a designer and illustrator before Macs. Hours were spent practicing with a drawing pen to do crop marks. Type was expensive. You paid  by the character and had to be precise when character counting and specifying type. Ideas were hard things to translate into finished designs. I can still remember the smell of the wax used for past-up. I was experimenting with the Apple II and learning to program in basic.

The Mac transformed the graphic industry in a few short years. I went from the ‘Queen of paste-up’ to getting fan mail for work as a rock magazine designer and whizzing around in a limo. In 1987 I produced a monthly rock magazine called Performer on a fat Mac with a whopping 512k of memory. The computer was hideously expensive in today’s money. It was $4,000 CDA. This was a foolish thing to do as it was a massive investment equating to about 3 months of my salary at the time.

It was a fun time. The last day was a heavy day. We would get the ‘sheets’ back from the output house and then have to manually strip in changes and stick photocopies with hand image sizing marks to the boards for the film house. We rarely got out of the office by midnight. This was a revolution. 3 years later Performer Magazine was sold and I was enjoying a considerably much higher salary in digital design.

drawing pen

5 minutes to do crop marks

The early days were weird times. Art directors and designers didn’t use computers. They were for the ‘production people’. Art directors hung out in bars armed with markers and came back slurring their words and thrusting a cocktail napkin at you of their latest brain wave. I couldn’t understand how such a inovative tool should get slung to the back of the ranks and not get used creatively. There was a dismissive attitude towards computers from people and companies that stood to gain the most from them.

There was also a fear that they would leave people infertile or cause medical problems. I actually had people tell me that if I continued to use computers they would make me less creative and smart. Foolishly I ignored their advice and continued to use them during my childbearing prime. Mac went through a lot of years where it was considered weird and didn’t fit in the status quo. Sounds silly now to think that people reacted like that.

Then there would be the “Mac vs PCs” lab tests and these failed to sway me away from Apple products. Apple products are a “‘joy to use” something missing from most tests that focussed on screen resolution and processing power.

It was a fight to get an Apple into most companies I worked for.  The IT department moaned about the most about networking, security and cost. File sharing was a nightmare. I was known as the “Mac Girl”. This caused quite a bit of friction at times and made me unpopular and different.

IT departments didn’t see design as a value. Nor did companies. Usability was almost a dirty word and design was referred to as ‘fluffy’. It was only the marketing and advertising agencies that cared about design. No one thought this was important for heavy task, process and office work. Something happens when you start using a Mac and seeing how simple and pleasurable applications can be.

The time is takes to build badly designed software and well designed software is the same. The costs of the design will pay for itself. Yet daily I still have this battle to get more design thinking inlcuded. Steve had a super power that I wish I had. He could talk people into anything. The people at Apple would call it Steve’s Reality Distortion Field.

I was one of the 50,000 that bought a NeXT. I thought it was an amazing piece of kit and it did get me started on the inception of the web. Getting software was my main issue, so I went back to using Macs. But something was missing. Steve called it the ‘sex’.

Computers were still finding their way into the workplace and still ugly putty boxes. We all know the stereotypes of the hip cool Mac users using their Mac for music, media, games, and graphics and the starchy suited business types boasting of their processing power and cranking out spreadsheets. The reality turned has turned out different. Macs are used in business and some designers do design on PCs.

In ’95 I foolishly took part in a live radio debate “Apple VS Windows” and was introduced as the “mac girl”.

steve 1984

It just worked. You only had to focus on what you were doing, not how to use it.

The irony is that with all these battles of technologies it was never about technology. That is what is so brilliant about Steve Jobs. He knew that. He made technology about what you ‘could do’. Imagination was the key driver. He cared passionately about design and UX. “It should just work”. He made things that are a pleasure to use.

A lot of my work is designing backend systems and functional applications. In these enlightened days where everyone knows the importance of design and agrees that things should be easy to use, design is still an issue. I still have to fight for design and good user experience. Whenever I see a requirement for ‘Sharepoint out  of the box’ I roll my eyes and say, “here we go again”. It doesn’t matter if it is routine tasks or not. In fact it is the routine boring and everyday tasks that need the most design. Steve’s lasting legacy is about design and empowering users. He was known as a control freak who wanted things to be perfect. Apple was floundering when he returned and he came back and introduced the iMac. I bought mine in hot pink.  Company profits ensued.

Digital is about change. Everything changes. I read some where that the NeXT was a dismal failure. It was a fantastic machine and beautiful to use. The high cost was the main barrier, followed by software. Steve Berners Lee invented the web from it. Without it would we have the web? Everyone can do something powerful and make a lasting mark. The lasting mark Steve Jobs has left will be with us for a very, very long time. He did something very powerful and it actually has nothing to do with technology and everything to do with changing how we live.





The Future is Here, It is Just Not Evenly Distributed.

There is a lot of talk of the Art of the Possible and what this really means five years from now. Creating and communicating a vision is a key part of user experience. Most clients want to know what is happening (best guess) for the next two years. For good a reason. Making the wrong decisions and investment could kill their business. They want to know that the system and the technology they are implementing will still be relevant when it is complete.  

Just a few short years ago most CTOs wanted stable mature platforms. They would not even look at products that did not have a strong track record of value and performance. There is a shift to conversations with start-ups, to provide new tools. Innovation is the buzzword of the day. There is a shift towards using innovative tools in a modular “swap in and swap out” style ecosystem architecture. This is a long term strategy that involves less risk than getting locked in to a single platform.  

The boom of bust of 1999-2002 happened because the consumer infrastructure to support it was missing. Now it is the consumer that is driving it.

One person’s future is another person’s past.

A lot is being written about the kids that are growing up with digital. It is not just about them. A lot of people are zooming ahead. Historically there have always been early adopters. The difference is that in most cases the masses eventually caught up in the consumer technology. Being the first family on the block to get a TV was a big deal. It took years before the TV invaded every house in the neighbourhood. In between each wave of technology people had time to catch up and adapt.

This time the pace and the amount of technology is less like a serious of waves and more metaphorically like a tsunami. There is a worry that the early adopters are zooming so far ahead that there is a possibility that the divide may be deeper and wider as to put some people and companies at a disadvantage.

Not everyone has the mindset for digital. This is not about code or doing digital but about integrating into every day lives so this it is just there in the background.

People not Companies are Zooming Ahead

This time the speed of innovation is happening so fast that it is not just people that are falling behind but companies.  The bigger the company the more likely it is to be encumbered with old systems that creak and have out dated systems. This a huge challenge in the workplace. Given the current economy companies and government agencies are cash strapped. If a company has IE 6 there are now in the less than 3% of the population and on the wrong side of the technology divide.

Some People get Left Behind Others Choose to Stay Behind

Noahs ark

Is IE6 still holding the web back to State of the Ark?

Getting everyone online is still a huge challenge for government services who want everyone online to drive more efficiency through self service. The benefit to companies of getting people off more expensive channels of telephony and in person makes financial sense. There are challenges as research into user behaviour points that for a lot of people this is unworkable. This is not do with solely with economic reasons.

It is because not everyone wants to be online. For every person who seems to be online all the time there is another person saying “put that away” and treating technology as an unwelcome invader into their personal space.

Getting people online is not about cost. It is far more complicated. Some people do not want to be online. I have encountered people so hostile to technology they see it as this unwanted invader in their lives. Attitudes toward technology differ. The  younger “digital natives” will eventually become the more dominant strain (for a lack of a better term). Even among the younger digital crowd thought there is still a spectrum between the truly engaged and the ones that more passively engaged.

Moving Beyond Mobile

It is not enough given the speed that new apps and gadgets are coming out. The pace of innovation is having a profound change to our lifestyle.  The further a person is on the scale the more profound the changes. The convergence of mobile, social and digital trends We are moving to an internet of things. Not just smartphones but a whole range of devices. It is estimated that by 2020 there will be up to 50 billion connected devices and each consumer will have approximately seven devices connected to the Internet.

The New York Times has an interesting article on “The Kitchen Table of the Future“. In this vision the time spent around the kitchen table would be about “swiping through stories, ambient commerce and the quantified self”. This is already a reality for a lot of people now and has been since the iPad came out almost two years ago.

Waitrose has introduced a bar code scanner for self service in store shopping. The device is easy to use and has the added bonus of adding up items and they are added and alerting customers of savings on multiple items. It would be interesting to know how the take up progresses.

Beyond just making phone calls or sending text messages, people regularly look up directions, research products while in-store, chat and compare with friends and family, search for deals and pay for a coffee using a mobile phone.

These intelligent, always-connected devices and the consumers using them to their full potential are pushing merchants to react quickly, or die. Businesses that don’t have a mobile commerce strategy are losing out on significant revenue, and that’s only going to continue to accelerate.

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Epson MegaPlex turns an iPhone or iPad into a big-screen projector

HD 720p All-in-One Projector, Speaker and Apple-Device Dock Combo for Digital Lifestyle

HD 720p All-in-One Projector, Speaker and Apple-Device Dock Combo for Digital Lifestyle

I have been looking at docking stations for a while and always left the store empty handed. Now Epsom has come out with one that fits the bill of what I am looking for. The Epson MegaPlex. I want one that is more than just a set of speakers and a charger. It is a projector that just happens to be also a docking station.

After video, DVDs and then Blue Ray I am well past the point of being a movie collector. I am very selective now of which movies I want to have in my permanent collection. These days I prefer streaming. But with most of my viewing now done on the iPad this make the Epson MegaPlex a killer product.  I am already planning how I am going to use this as an out door projector for those rare summer nights.

Could this be a replacement to a TV and the end to the TV license?


No TV necessary and no TV license either

The added bonus is no TV necessary. When moving to the flat screen I was aware of the increased cost in energy usage. The added bonus is that the Epsom projector is a lot more energy efficient. It also takes up a lot less space and just requires a blank wall or screen

It seems crazy that to buy a TV solely to watch movies and play games and also pay for a TV license.  Then I need to add cable and thus pay even more to watch movies.

I am already a fan of BBC iPlayer and several others for viewing video content online. Lovefilm owned by Amazon now has a streaming option making it ideal and less expensive than cable for watching premier films. Most people are quite selective in what they watch as well. For a lot of people this may make a  lot of sense and time to ditch the idiot box.

Features of the Epson projector:
  • It is a docking device and charges iPad or iPhone devices when plugged in
  • Projects up to 100 inches
  • Perfect for Movies -HDMI plus other audio / video connections
  • Great for presentations – is advertised as travel friendly with a handle but I still think you would need a case
  • Stereo sound and can be used without video to play audio files
  • Built in mic to amply the presenters voice
  • Can be used as a speaker doc
  • Rich, vibrant color and reliable performance — 3LCD, 3-chip technology
  • Can connect to Mac or PCs using a USB connector
  • Can use a USB memory device directly  into the USB port and present

Remarkable resolution and bright output (2800 lumens of color and white light output1) ensure vivid content, even when it’s enlarged to a 100-inch image. Add in the built-in stereo speakers and portable design and MegaPlex MG-850HD is sure to transform how you collaborate and interact, whether at work or at home. Simply connect, project and play. Epson website 

Of course I am leaving off the obvious that this is also a good tool for work as well. I am sure I can say for certain that this will be in my home a lot faster than I can fill out the procurement forms. 😉


A Survival Strategy for Handling the UX Crazy Person


UX is maturing. 2007 article bringing together consultants on a global scale.

This week the topic of discussion at the Hospital Club, during our usual UX Martini Madness, was about the difficulty in getting consensus on getting a UX Manifesto. Whenever it seems we are finally getting a common understanding of what UX is some new Crazy jumps up and wants to reinvent the wheel?  The UX wheel that is. It is like being on a UX merry-go-round. When actually UX on a trajectory path that in the last few years has seen what we do mature. UX has evolved a lot in very short period of time. This is exciting!

We call them Crazies the Crazies because their reaction is to behave like a crazy person and display increasingly odd behaviour the closer we get.

Instead of embracing the new emerging standards they want to re-invent their own, around them. We have seen user experience descriptions recently where they mention everything except anything to do with user experience. Instead of embracing the changes and wanting to get involved they go into a destructive and self protectionist mode.

Their crazy thinking is bad enough for them but it is even more damaging to the industry, the people they work with and the companies they work for. It is highly toxic and must be disposed of with extreme care.

ux alliance

The UX Alliance is Global


Some of the best user experience people and teams are now client side. I have a tremendous amount of respect for what some of the specialists have done and are doing. Companies like Frog, User Focus, Foviance, Flow, Foolproof, Sapient, EMC, LBi have really raised the bar and helped user experience to mature.


The Crazy response is doing more harm than good.

But there are still some toddlers out there who have not realised it is about the end user and not about them.

How to spot a Crazy:

  • Crazies want to define what a UX consultant is and not use industry standards
  • Crazies want to define the exact skills set now and for the next xxxx years
  • Crazies see the value of UX to “differentiate”  and want to brand it (or call it something else), own it and use it for their own needs
  • Crazies obsess about code, tools, process, scripts, levels and methods and so on…. everything except what UX is about!
  • Crazies talk a lot but do not do and almost never show… their own site looks more “State of the Ark” than “Stake of the Art” [If they have a graphical header they are a crazy]
  • Crazies moan about themselves and why they are not being plucked from obscurity [From Andy Budd] rather than learn about the industry and do something of merit
  • If the crazies are not getting their way they feel victimised
  • Crazies talk and care more about themselves and less about the end user or anyone else for that matter
  • Crazies are all about producing the end result (user interface) but pay very little attention to the journey


Crazies want UX to be about them and their skills. Really, does the user care how a UX Consultant defines themselves and whether you know some bad ass scripts? No. It is about the user and creating a stunning user experience. That is a worthwhile and measurable objective. User experience is a team effort. As a user experience consultant the role is to ensure the user is considered and accounted for.


UX Crazy Survival Tip 1: Go where the industry is going. Look at what companies like Frog and User Focus [David Travis] has to say. Follow the leaders.

Google “user experience” and you will find a stack of books, conferences, methods, tools, magazines, clubs and lots of like minded thinkers willing to share their information and perspectives. No where is it about tech. It is all about the user. It is the user that unites us.

Frog mind design

The Frog Mind puts users first. Frog gets it.

The crazy may try to bounce with a book they read that is 10 years old. “oh yes I read this years ago and have my diploma from xxx”. Stay with what is current and take a consolidated view from what is currently out there on blogs and in workshops. The big players all seems to have a similar view of user experience with varying  nuances in descriptions.

The Peer Index top 500 from Foolproof is a great please to start

UX Crazy Survival Tip 2: Share the reading lists and as much information as possible with as many people as possible. Knowledge and research is a powerful weapon against the Crazy. 

Crazies  do not like the fact that UX people meet up and want to share knowledge. They seem to ignore the fact there are degree courses, certifications and standards emerging. They want… errrr.. demand a description that fits their often narrow minded and outdated view and skills. UX people are in huge numbers and have a big voice in the world of digital. UX is not a bag of tricks it is about a mind set that puts the user first.

dark arts

Would you want to be operated on by self assessed surgeons?

Do not limit that information just to the team but educate widely. Invite other people in to discuss. UX is about collaboration and empowering. It is not a Society for the Dark Arts. The more people in your organisation who understand what user experience is the less power the crazy will have and the focus will shift to UX.

UX Crazy Survival Tip 3: Go to as many events as possible and talk to people in the industry. Listen to the people who matter and who are doing great stuff. Let their voices drown out the Crazy. 

The rest of us (non crazies) seem to want to help the users. We recognise that users are important. They can make a product successful or not. We want recognition and the professional status that a profession brings. We are not all out to be mavericks and ninjas.

We have evolved from the UCD, web design time line

UX evolution diagram

Click on the diagram to see the UX evolution


When you think about it, it makes perfect sense. User experience is about the user. It is not about me or you. Users belong to tribes and share common traits. We are trained to look for common traits. UX brings convention (in an innovative way). It makes sure the end result works for the majority of people. The awards now are for usability and are about delivering a measurable experience. They are not the subjective far out designs of old (that probably did not work either). We want inclusiveness and accessibility. We wants standards. We are people people.  That is probably why we have a million conferences ;-).

UX Crazy Survival Tip 4: Embrace web and user centered standards and change with them. Do not let the Crazies define you. It is your career in the end. 

Taken from Wikipedia:

Recent advances in mobileubiquitoussocial, and tangible computing technologies have moved human-computer interaction into practically all areas of human activity. This has led to a shift away from usability engineering to a much richer scope of user experience, where user’s feelings, motivations, and values are given as much, if not more, attention than efficiency, effectiveness and basic subjective satisfaction (i.e. the three traditional usability metrics[4])

Just because you are a UX Consultant does not mean you can not specialise. In fact it is the opposite or not and entirely your choice. Specialise away if you want. But put the user first and understand the core skills of UX. If you think being an HTML5 expert will help then go for it. If you want to be the best in user research then that too will be a huge advantage. Just remember that complete specialisation is a cul-de-sac. New tools and graduates are emerging. The whole industry is changing. Typographers learned the hard way of what can be a fickle business.

UX Crazy Survival Tip 5: Be flexible, adaptable and design for change. Learn as much as you can and go with your own instinct. Do not let the Crazy paint you into a corner. Be vocal and have your own sense of who you are. Think ahead. What is in demand now will be redundant tomorrow. 

Digital is about change. It is not fixed. There is no description of UX today that will be still relevant tomorrow. Who knows what tomorrow will bring. UX Consultants must be first and foremost be flexible and willing to adapt. Understanding the user and keeping abreast of change is the way forward.

UX is a moving feast. No one can say what the tools are for tomorrow will be. One thing is the same. The user. The user is there. They are changing too. They also do not play to stereo types. Follow the user. What are they doing now that they were not doing yesterday? When I am in meeting and some one says, “oh generation X only uses social media”. Oh really, then why is the average of a twitter user 45? Research, research research and know your stuff. Have the goods to back up what you are doing with conviction.

I also had to remind some one that we are not building for tomorrow we are building for 400 tomorrows. It will take 400 days for a complete relaunch. At the day of launch the new system must be ready for that day, not tomorrow.

UX Crazy Survival Tip 6: Collaborate and share ideas with other UX people. Nothing beats a get together with other UX professionals and having good verbal bashing of what the Crazies are doing.  Having people you can rely on to help keep your sanity is a wise strategy.

Having a group of like minded peers can help. Nothing beats unwinding when you can have a sensible discussion with sane people. We have all been there. Some of us still have crazies in our life. Who knows when the next one will pop up and start wrecking havoc.  The good news is that the UX Crazies’ days are numbered. Let’s keep meeting up, coming together and working to common standards. In the end they won’t win.

It is an ongoing process of education and learning by example both good and bad.


It’s a Dev Tool, No It’s a Design Tool, No It’s a Moose.

Jeremy Keith of Clearleft

Jeremy Keith of Clearleft

I love Adobe. Let me say that up front. Adobe has been very good to me. Oh yes. Adobe and Apple issues aside with the whole flash thing, I remember what is was like to use a tool dipped in ink to draw a straight line. White out was my best friend for making crop marks. I had the typographer’s phone number memorized. He knew how to read my scamps and hand drawn text and know exactly what font to use and would get the kerning right.

Adobe and Apple liberated me. So you can imagine how I jumped at the chance to go to tonight’s Adobe HTML 5 Camp aimed at developers with the odd designer taking an interest.

They could not have picked a better or worse (depending on your point of view) presenter. Jeremy Keith of Clearleft. The man needs no introduction. Everyone knows Clearleft love their code so much their cleaning staff could probably give a lot of devs a run for their money.

So to make a long story short, Jeremy goes nuts on a long rant. He goes on this long tirade of how Adobe Muse is insulting to both designers and developers. He does not stop and he goes on to call it WYSISWTF! [if you need me to translate – you should not be reading this article]


Uh oh! He had a point I suppose.

The most infuriating thing is that Muse pays absolutely no respect to the discipline of design. We are not some bastard child of print.  Tweet from Goodonpaper

From there (a good start in my eyes) the event just seemed to get better, with some great talks by Greg Rewis, Sam Dutton & Mark Anders. Adobe Edge looks promising if a little rough on the eyes. Intuitive – not really. The new CS5 Dreaweaver tutorial was basic but good.  I am not a developer and I tend to downplay what dev skills I have just so I can avoid getting my hands dirty on a 6 month development gig. I can code CSS and HTML mark-up, but I mainly keep my skills up only to give me an deep understanding and allow me to help me in design/UX. This is an advantage for me. I am a fully paid up member the “you cannot have too much information” club. Knowing the code structure and keeping up to date can only help.

Cue dark and scary music. Last session of the day and the Adobe product evangelist walks on the stage.

  • PowerPoint agenda…uhuming and hawing – not a great intro
  • PowerPoint bullets and all about Adobe Muse
  • Demo slow to load
  • Uninspiring demo
  • Kept saying “job done” and silly phrases
  • Sounded like more more Moose than Muse


I really felt sorry for the presenter but it was a car crash from start to finish. Over 60% of the audience walked out. I was one of the last to walk out. Only because I was sitting in the middle and needed the people to one side of me to empty out first. Plus I did try to be polite. I wanted to hear the end wrap up but as it also was running over… well it made sense… 😉

Everything was aweful. Here was Adobe with a chance to end on a high note and prove that Jeremy Keith guy wrong and they failed. It was PowerPoint bullet points. The actual demo was terrible and with a design so dreadful it made the banner Mark Ander did worthy of a Webby award. But I digress.

The one thing I left with was that Adobe Muse is neither for designers or developers and is in fact a Moose. A Moose aimed at designers.


Welcome to the Conceptual Age. So Long Information Age.

a whole new mind book jacket

A Whole New Mind

Let me start off this blog post by challenging one of the myths I have encountered recently. A creative solution was perceived as a strategy and thus a person assumed that creative and strategy are one and the same. They could not discern the creative presentation from the strategy behind it.

Creative and strategy require different types of thinking. In user experience you need both types. This doesn’t mean two people or roles. This means the application of different kinds of thinking.

Creative thinking is coming up with ideas. Brainstorming is one aspect of it. Another aspect could be the creative output or conceptual model to describe that idea. The conceptual idea is not the final design but a vision of what it could be like or a metaphor. The purpose is to communicate the idea visually so that it can be understood and evaluated by non creative people. Ideally the creative process should create as many ideas as many as possible. It is unconstrained and is the merging of ideas which have not been merged before to achieve a positive business outcome. From a user experience perspective this should create a positive emotional experience. The ability to consistently and quickly come up with lots of creative ideas is a good indication of how creative some one is.

Strategic thinking reduces information down to exact values based on unique insight. It is an essential part of critical thinking to judge whether a specific situation or piece of information is right or wrong, based on its ability to help achieve a positive business outcome, or solve a business problem or issue. A definition of how strategic some one is could be based on their ability to evaluate, analyse and judge multiple alternatives at once and to consider a range of scenarios and make strategic choices

Conceptual thinking requires both.

This is whole brain thinking. This is being able to create ideas, evaluate them and make strategic choices.

Daniel Pink expanding on this idea in A Whole New Mind (2005) defines Economic Development as:

1. Agriculture Age (farmers)
2. Industrial Age (factory workers)
3. Information Age (knowledge workers)
4. Conceptual Age (creators and empathizers)

Pink identifies winners as designers, inventors, counselors, ethnographers, social psychologists, and other right-brain folks, while lawyers, engineers, accountants, and other left-brainers will see their jobs migrate to Asia. We are coming out of an information age and in the early days of a conceptual age.

Creativity is the most crucial factor for success, giving companies a constructive advantage and setting the company apart from the competition. This new brain thinking is critical for innovation.

I recently had a conversation with a web designer who said “he can’t see himself ever winning a web design award”. I couldn’t help but think how short sighted and faulted his thinking is. A lot of clients want awards. These are not the visual design awards of years ago. These are now awards based on innovation and solutions. Being innovative and seen to be a leader in the industry is the core values of a lot of organisations. The awards are in recognition of that and carry a lot of prestige. If that is his attitude he might as well give up.

If you are not driving innovation and creative in a field such as user experience you are doomed to fail. UX is at the heart of generating fresh solutions to problems.  Ultimately everything comes down to a user problem. The convergance of social media, mobility and digital access is driving change at a warp speed. It is no longer enough to apply the rules of usability, accessibility and best practice. So many people seem to be still caught up in the pixel pushing.

Companies recognise the need of constant change to create new products, processes or services for a changing market. This is part of the intellectual capital that gives a company its competitive edge. Creativity is a crucial part of the innovation equation.

The left brain gave us processes. The conceptual age will be ruled by empathy, creativity and artistry. Empathy with end users and clients works by understanding and balancing the needs of both. Creativity and concpetualisation is a core competency for ux practictioners and one of the best ways to set yourself apart from delivery. This is a straight value proposition. Being able to do the research to measure the user experience will ultimately prove the worth. The actual design and execution will be done in the delivery stage and yes this will still largely be processed driven.

But one of the biggest misunderstandings I have encountered seems to be that UX is the same as UI. It is not. Saying that devalues what we do. UI is only one component. UX is more pervasive now.  Delivery is about deliverables and quality assurance is about execution. Focus on the creative aspects only. The deisgn will come later.

Of course it helps if you have a great design eye. Being creative and also design challenged is not going to help you communicate ideas. But visual design is not creative.

Looking at HP’s guide for innovation & creativity as a starting point I have reworked it for how I work.

  • Work collaboratively in small teams
  • Have belief in what you are doing and focus on the value
  • Work quickly and visually
  • Share and collaborate
  • The customer and end user will have the end say
  • Invent
  • Resist the temptation to re-use – throw out the templates
  • Embrace change
  • Tolerate ambiguity
  • Radical ideas are not automatically bad
  • Consistenty improve
  • Update new tools and ways of working


While working on the concept forget for the moment that creative is about deliverables, more specifically execution (in the design sense).  In the beginnign it helps to scribble, sketch, explore ideas and create cartoons rather than going straight to wireframes.

Fostering an environment for creativity and innovation means confronting the old mindset.


sales force
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Having a Pervasive Experience, While Discussing Pervasive Experiences

MC HammerSalesforce’s mega event Dreamforce is on now. If you thought it was just a sales tool then think again. There is a reason why MC Hammer was in the audience and it has to do with the powerful impact social media has on businesses.

Salesforce is one of the biggest tools in the pervasive UX arsenal. It is not a pure UX tool in the way Axure or User Zoom are but it has a much bigger impact. It is like comparing an asteroid to a beach pebble.

The strong CRM capability extends the user experience far beyond the reach of the webpage from a business perspective. Every thing is done in real time. In their demo they illustrated how you could go up to a Coke machine and pay using a smart phone. That purchase could be tracked, appear in a loyalty scheme and get “liked” on Facebook.

With 45,000 people in attendance, over the next couple days, at Dream Force I feel like the only one left out. But according to Facebook and Twitter I am in great company. It was a packed house on both fronts on Twitter and Facebook. I could not resist a posting a cheeky comment on their Twitter feed about “what happens when cars start talking to each other”. Only because I know that these get displayed on screens at the event and this was my way of saying “Hi” to a fellow co-worker in attendance. Hi Sam, did you see me?


wacom inkling

Sketching with Wacom’s Inkling

Every once in awhile a new gadget that comes out that makes me go “I WANT!!”. Ok admittedly more often than once in awhile but far less often than spotting new dresses.

Wacom has a new pen coming out that can allow you to sketch and import directly into Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, Sketchbook or saved as a JPG, BMP, TIFF, PNG, SVG & PDF for use with other applications. Oh yes. Almost sounds too good to be true.

As an ardent sketcher this is great news for story boarding and sketching user journeys. I may even be able to get my sketching back to where it was before I became a wireframe machine in Axure/Visio/whatever…

Taking photos or scanning in is ok (minus of course the big downside of the actual scanning)
but nothing compared to having the diagram in a native Adobe format.


Coming out this month! Whoo hoo.

View the details on the Wacom Inkling page.

Women in Despair
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Pervasive User Experience (UX)

Pervasive  User Experience is about extending the user experience and connecting it to the world users live in and work in as well the service or product. Pervasive UX is not about the what and how in the beginning, but it does get there.

First it is about the who and the why, understanding the needs of the end users and everything they will come into contact with. There is almost a cascade effect that can occur from user interaction not unlike the Butterfly Effect . Pervasive UX is disruptive. It is likened to a chaos theory. It ignores the silos in an organisation and breaks down barriers. Back-end processes and structures become invisible. Users are broadcasters and promoters of what matters to them.

It is a moving target. Social media, augmented reality and smart devices are driving user experience into uncharted territory. User experience is travelling beyond the traditional boundaries. It cannot be defined by what happens on a web page or within a single application or service.

User experience has gone from being a tactic sprinkling of usability, to keep the hippie mongrels at bay with their wacky usability principals, to becoming a new business model as brands struggle to keep up in fast paced multi-channel world.

Users identify with the method in which they interact with a company, product or service. Companies are only as good as their call centre or their sign up process. To the consumer mobile services are retailers. You walk into a shop or go online and buy. How is this a telecommunications company to the average Joe on the street? It is not. When users are online it is a digital service. This digital service extends beyond the pages or even the site. Digital is now the dominant interface for a lot of businesses.

If digital is now the dominating aspect then social media is the glue. The social media phenomenon extends the reach of the user experience. Every touch point a user has with an organisation should provide a seamless experience. A pervasive user experience strategy forms part of the core philosophy of an organisation.

This has a big impact for businesses as user expectations and perception is rapidly changing. During the boom companies rushed in to offer services before the infrastructure and take up of the web was at a mass level. Now it is users who are in charge and the companies need to adapt and understand these new pathways. Business processes need to be re-engineered to become more usable to the user.

An example that comes to mind is my recent stay at the 4 star, La Centre Sheraton in Montreal I experienced the full Faulty Towers Experience, diagram below.

Until I got into my room I was having a mostly positive experience.

  • I asked about the staff about the top floor bar. I was abruptly told it was unavailable. I finally found out it was only available to Elite Members.
  • The complete lack of WiFi filled me with horror. Room internet access costing more than an expensive meal. Business lounge day care centre  gave me a full free 30 minutes on one of their computers.
  • At check out they charged us extra per bag regardless of size to hold them until our flight. Lining up at both the checkout and the porter desk. The porter desk is as far as the hotel management is concerned a separate business unit.
  • The experience was not a good pervasive experience. Everything was about sales. There was nothing about keeping me as a customer, engaging with me or recommending them to friends. It was as far as I am concerned a “one shot deal”. Good bye Sheraton.


But something of a paradigm shift is happening. It just has not made it to most companies yet. I wrote in another article on Disruption Innovation that employees of companies are tired of waiting for the company to give them tools to do their jobs better and are taking to the web to collaborate. This is called Shadow IT. But how much money and time have companies wasted and are wasting to replicate what is already there?

Suppose I am applying for a credit reference  to rent a property.

Why is it I am expected to print 6 months of bank statements? Why can I not simply click on a button on my bank site that says “send reference to” and fillout a few details? Surely the renting agent does not to see that I spent £xx on shoes, when all they want to know is whether I have had a steady income and no overdrafts? Surely that is worth something to some one and would help reduce fraud. What happens with those 6 months of printed bank statements that get sent to the letting agent, how do I know they were appropriately destroyed?

Tactical UX starts with a project, a budget and a list of vague requirements and go down the process route of producing personas, wireframes and a solution. By then it is too late for UX to contribute on a strategic level.

Pervasive UX ascends to the Grand Strategic level of an organisation and can give companies a constructive advantage.

The chief role of User Experience strategists are:

  • Bring a customer perspective to problems through deep understanding.
  • Account for and minimize bias.
  • Identify business opportunities promote end user well being.
  • Facilitate a balance between business goals, user needs and technology.


The foundations are there, the semantic web did arrive and is silently increasing. Data is more open and augmented reality has taken off. It is all about delivering big connected experiences now.

We are looking at situation where user experience strategy has taken on the task of being a catalyst for positive change and disruption.

Please comment and let me know what you think.


Disruptive Innovation, Let the Revolution Begin

Tyrants are having a bad year. Things are only going to get worse. The old style management that is all about control is out. The new style is about “empowerment”.

    • New managers mentor. Tyrants order.
    • New managers ask. Tyrants dictate.
    • New managers are results focused. Tyrants are process focused.


I am lucky to have some great examples to learn from. I have also witnessed dreadful managers in action that think that ruling with a fist is the answer.

As a manager I know what type I fall in. I love mentoring and empowering. So it was with great pleasure that I was asked to read and feedback on a report on social learning for teams. It also got me thinking of what I do and my personal beliefs and the views of some of Thought Leaders such as Umair Haque, Director of the Havas Media Lab and author of The New Capitalist Manifesto: Building a Disruptively Better Business.

A revolution is happening. There is more talk about “disruption” and innovation and changing things for the better. In part this is down to digital and social media breaking down boundaries.

User Experience practitioners are certainly at the heart of the digital media revolution. The social media phenomenon is here to stay, and knowing what’s happening in this space is important for everyone. Social media is the glue.

In politics it is fueling uprisings. In business, people are breaking out of their team rooms and corporate structures and taking their conversations online. The web can be the one place where democracy really can exist and everyone can have a say. It is no surprise that user experience is now such a hot topic. Looking at some of the top brands and their recent marketing offerings is seems that have been quick to jump on the band wagon with messages all about the power of “you”. They know how much power you (and me) have.

This is not a bad thing. There is nothing wrong with giving people more individual power. Provided people get guidance and use it responsibly it adds a lot of value. Digital innovation is constantly driving new approaches that have huge potential value for our customers, employers and society, as well as ourselves. Greater transparency can foster better relationships with clients.

It has me thinking of what is best for digital teams when it comes to providing information about their industry.

Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man how to fish and he will eat for the rest of his life.

Fortunately most people in user experience are very vocal and socially media aware. The “UX cats” are long out of the bags. Putting the cats back into the bags and going back to old style team rooms with spoon fed content is not going work. Team rooms still have their place as a repository for documents and resource files but they are not where we should be having our conversations.

Twitter is fantastic for conversations and event tracking. Add a hash tag #myevent and tweet. It is pointless to duplicate content and functionality when the tools and information are one click away on the web. It is a no brainer. No really. Laynrd does a great job of listing conferences and events. Laynrd has over 3,500 presentations on file. Meet-up is fantastic and has the added bonus of sending notifications of new events.

The key is to influence rather than argue. The value of writing a book report or conference biopsy seems a little odd when it will be Tweeted, blogged and reported by almost everyone. Everything is online and the last time I checked Google was still working.

Today already 40% of business technology users at North American companies report using one of more website (s) to do parts of their jobs that are not sanctioned by their IT department. We expect this number to grow close to 60% in 2011 as frustrated workers work around IT to self-provision technology. How democratization of technology empowers employees, Forrester, 2011

This is a smarter and more collaborative way of working. The only way people are going to learn about digital, their industry and the social media phenomenon is by getting involved. By the time I write that report it will be out of date.

The accelerating rate of change forces everyone in every organisation to make a choice: learn while you work or become obsolete – Quote from Jane Hart, Impact of Social Learning in the Workplace

The four cornerstones of Social Learning are:

  • Building relationships and joining communities: Learning more from competitors, industry experts, thought leaders and innovatorsthrough blogs, Linkedin, Google +, Twitter
  • Improving productivity: Using tools like Google, Twitter, Dropbox, Twitter, Doodle, Good Reader
  • Finding and using content: Flipboard, Google, RSS, Laynrd
  • Creating and sharing content: flickr, Slideshare, Vimeo, Meet up


Tyrants beware, the revolution will be Tweeted #revolution. Jane Heart, The Impact of social Media in the Workplace is good place to start. Jane Hart”s report is now online with more at

Please discuss as I am always interested to know what people think.



Gorilla User Experience (UX) Using Axure

Experiments in attention and concentration show that when people are concentrating on something and doing a task they often miss other information.  This has big implications for UX design as well as collecting the requirements and running workshops.

Suppose you are running a workshop for a new retail site and you have a group of stakeholders in the room each with their own agenda. It is important to sketch out the end to end scenario first as a walking skeleton. This is so that everybody understands it as a single process.

This is often the situation where a product manager may have an objective of people browsing their products and hitting “add to basket”. For them that is where the journey ends. The shopping basket (funnel) is some else’s problem. But it is not. Statistics will show that it is the payment screen that is the most abandoned. Rarely do you see a product manager care about that.

Most UX people probably know the 200 lb invisible gorilla experiment. When people are concentrating on doing a task a 200 lb gorilla can literally disappear.

What it demonstrates is that people complete the task despite it. This also works in reverse.  Axure is my gorilla. I have used it workshops and have “live” mocked stuff up. The first part of the workshop I explain what I am going to do and how it works and what will happen at the end. It may seem strange to some people at first but as things get going no one pays attention to me they are all focused on the screen and completing their tasks as well.

The sessions still contain all the usual white boarding, post it sessions, sketching and open discussions. What I do is make sure that everything is captured so that nothing is lost. I do this by having some prep work done beforehand to allow me work in real time and turn the outputs into a clickable journey. The tarting up can be done later. After the workshop.

Generally 20-30% of all information from workshops is lost. Those photos of the post it notes boards are often missing key bits of detail. The flip chart scrawlings sometimes need a translator and are open to interpretation. Participants leave unclear whether the output was good or not until they see it later. By then their memories are subject to their view.

By capturing the information in the room I can play it back at the end. People can immediately see what was accomplished and reach conscientious on the value of workshop. Plus I will still have the original photos of all the boards and post it notes to add to the deck and show the process of getting there.

Just in case you do not know the Invisible Gorilla story, read more on


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Is Gamification Just The Latest Buzzword?

Anybody old enough to have had a Palm Pilot in  2002, will remember buzzword bingo. Oh what fun it was to sit in meetings and wait for some hapless person to use the buzzwords of the day. Who cannot forget the dreadfulness of leverage, spearheading, running up a flagpole and so many toe curling others.

But gamification is different. These is more substance behind it. There is the pleasure principal: “People do things that are pleasurable and they avoid things they hate”. It is basic human nature. Addictive games such as Angry Birds plus popular items such as Facebook and the iPad have significantly raised user expectations.

The iPad is a huge game changer. No waiting time to boot up. No annoying start up menus.  A user can turn it on and check for recent messages in seconds. Users want immediately reactive technology. On these devices it is easier to check stats, look for updates, track progress and complete a lot of task based activities.

There is no trickery behind this and no need for more jargon, just basic principals:

  • Making something pleasurable to use
  • Focus on quick delivery in task based activities, (the workflow should be transparent)
  • Use design to make things engaging
  • Keep information light
  • Clever usage of  visual metaphors, icons and data visualisation
  • Incorporate social media behaviour –
  • Incentivise and give the user feedback
  • Make even boring tasks fun
  • Provide feedback – dashboards – performance charts
  • Compare people – engage users in a friendly sense of competition
  • Use rich interfaces while maintaining usability and accessibility standards
  • Consider HTML 5 or develop different interfaces for multiple devices


When Gartner starts talking about Gamification, you know that it cannot be ignored.

Unfortunaly it  may be only a matter of time before we start seeing, “I spearheaded the gamification initiative”, on CVs. Oh my.

Gamification experts are not needed. Like Social Media this a trend towards creating better experiences and meeting the evolving needs of users. It is not an isolated skill. Everyone can benefit from understanding the thinking behind it and blending  it in their every day work. For those of us who already have a game design background we are already there.

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Prototyping to Add Value

Prototypes must deliver value. It is the thinking that is the valuable part not the overall execution or the tool.

Too often discussions get bogged in down in discussions about what is the best tool to use. The tool used for prototyping is just a canvas. A good painting doesn’t take longer to produce than a bad painting.  It is the thinking that goes into it. Not how it is done.

Prototypes are visionary and need to capture the art of the possible.

Rapid Design Visualisation  is emergent. The solution will emerge over time, evolving to fulfil new requirements and take advantage of newer technologies and methods as appropriate.  Some initial modelling is done at the very beginning of a project during “iteration 0”.  This can be part of a white boarding or brainstorming stage.  This will be just enough to visualise ‘the concept’ to stimulate discussions and provide a talking point. This gives everyone on the team more clarity and less room to misinterpret as you can see it, touch and play with it. It is interactive and mimics the behaviour of the final solution.

Prototypes maybe needed at any point in the project life-cycle. They end when it is “Good Enough For Now”.

Creating a prototype  version of  ‘the vision of the future’ may help get funding or a project kicked off.  Later it may evolve into a final GUI design with pixel perfect artifacts and a working model for the actual code base.  At every stage there are artifacts that can be used or reiterated. If it is custom software that is created then any new icons may need to be created  pixel perfect in order to validate usability, for example.

It could start out as one thing and evolve into something else. Prototypes designed in Axure or iRise can be canabilised and re-used. The prototype itself could be kept and used for training or modelling the next generation of the systems features.

 Modelled a little bit ahead and what it necessary. 

Don’t need to model what you know will already work. It is not about making a full scale working model.

If you are designing a car around a new engine to improve performance you wouldn’t want to wast time discussing whether the wheels should still be round. Just say there will be wheels and leave it at that.

Maybe just what it will look like (static model). Maybe not at all. Maybe it is just one problem you want to model so you can asses and test various options. Coding multiple solutions is impractical.





Sorry Google Says No

Do you have a social media strategy? If you are like most people working in digital you probably do. If you don’t then you are seriously missing out. If anything the recent rioting has proved what an impact social media is having. Both good and bad. No one can afford to ignore it.

Being a user experience expert it is mandatory. We need to be aware of what users are doing and how they are using the medium. It is powerful for gaining insight. Almost all digital experiences now have an element of social media. Social media is often the glue in user journeys. It is not something you can read about it and apply best practice. You need to be involved in it and experience it first hand.

How is it working for you? Does Google say no?


The Unreasonable Voice

The unreasonable voice is not a voice you hear a user experience person use.  The rare couple of times in (12 years) that I have head it from a UX person, it turned out it was their grasp of UX that was the problem. They were not actually a UX person at all.

It is not in our nature. All our training and knowledge is about the reasonable voice. User experience is about being a people person. We talk to people and seek to understand them; behaviours, motivations, goals, needs, wants etc. in order to come up with UX strategies.

User experience requires us to be good listeners, ask questions, be fair, compromise, suggest, hypothesize, share information, evaluate, analyse and think in order to put the user first.

In dealing with co-workers and other colleagues this usually holds true also. It is probably why the UX community is vibrant and full of events, conferences and meet-ups.

The unreasonable voice demands, judges, talks over people, interrupts, dictates and has to have the last word.  Nobody wants to be around some one who uses the unreasonable voice.

User experience  people who use the unreasonable voice are not really user experience people.




The Reasonable Voice

User Experience practitioners come from a variety of backgrounds among them psychologists, designers, Human Computer Interaction grads, Information Architects as well as others.

We share many common traits as well as being big sharers of our knowledge, experience and tips. We care about the end result and about other people.

It doesn’t matter how we got here. What matters is why we do it. Even though we may occasionally be the end user, we know that there are other types. Our opinion as an end user is only one voice among many, many others. In our work we come across a lot of methods, tools and processes but in the end these too are not important. They change and improve with time, so no point being precious about them.

It is being the reasonable voice we need to be precious about.


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Philosophies, Strategies and Value Creation

There is a lot of debate whether consumerism has gone too far. The distribution of wealth is to the super, super,  rich. The high street has been decimated and taken over by chain shops and restaurants. These continually buy each other out until it is in the hands of super companies. In the book The New Capitalist Manifesto, Wallmart was referred to as “the Deathstar of companies”. It was reviled and held up as being responsible for killing town centres and turning the locals from merchants to into employees. Stealing their independence and producing more low paid shelf stacker and cashier McJobs. An enslavement to produce higher profits that benefit a few already wealthy shareholders.

Activists fought a desperate battle to keep this greed monster away from their towns.

Wallmart is responding and tying to paint itself as helpful for delivering cheaper goods and promoting their newly acquired green credentials.

People are turning off and tuning out of advertising. To build a brand and develop a communication plan now there needs to be a philosophy. The message can no longer be solely strategic – sell, sell sell and mindless consumerism. The web makes everything more of a leveler. A user can click on negative feedback about a company two clicks away. Here niche brands can thrive as well.

Users now expect a better user experience on the web. A lot of people (myself included) now post complaints directly into Twitter and are getting a rapid response. This is becoming the first choice as users are learning they can avoid having to spend a painfully long time on the telephone trying to get hold of a real person.

Because user experience is so pervasive, developing a good user experience depends on blurring the boundaries of the web page. The user experience now has impacts on how the business sees itself. This in turn could have a positive impact for how companies need to behave if they are going to survive long term. Facebook with all of their privacy issues may pay a huge price when the next social rival site comes along and says to users “we respect you and you can own your content”.

Google has a philosophy that is driven by their principals

  1. Focus on the user and all else will follow.
  2. It’s best to do one thing really, really well.
  3. Fast is better than slow.
  4. Democracy on the web works.
  5. You don’t need to be at your desk to need an answer.
  6. You can make money without doing evil.
  7. There’s always more information out there.
  8. The need for information crosses all borders.
  9. You can be serious without a suit.
  10. Great just isn’t good enough.


Umair Haque is a provocative writer and thinker, who does not believe that government is the answer. He still believes in capitalism and believes we are the answer. I quote from his book The New Capitalist Manifesto.

Constructive capitalists have an advantage in the kind of value they are able to create, not just its amount. Because higher quality value is less risky, less costly, more defensible, and more enduring, it is usually worth more to stakeholders of every kind: people, communities, society, future generations, employees, regulators, and investors alike.

I am putting this into practice and working with our clients to help them develop both a philosophy (what are the principals) and a strategy (how to implement, drive value & positive behaviour). What I offer them is a constructive advantage for the future. That is a valuable proposition.

It is also blurring the boundaries of the traditional User Experience from being “Tactical” to being “Grand Strategic”.


competency initiative

Peer to Peer Evaluations Are Here to Stay, For Now

Everywhere you look the web sites are going up which allow people to rate you and comment on your work in your industry.

Most people thought it was a great idea to get all those rouge tadesmen rated. Plumber, builders, plasters are listed and rated by the work they do by how good a job they did. In social media a photo of you looking not so good can up being posted on ‘Hot or Not’ and sent around the office. Warts and all. TV shows like Rogue Traders turns the tables on those dodgey guys who are out to take your money in exchange for shoddy work. Lawyers have ratings too now.

In the world of digital and internet awards have been the boost to many an agency. But not individuals are being singled out and rated on Mixtent, Power UX, Linkedin with more to come .

There is no point hiding your head in the sand and thinking it will all blow over and you can carry on as normal. It might. But right now ‘peer to peer’ and ‘client’ assessments are gaining momentum and that is the wrong thing to do. Your participation is not mandatory. You are already playing the game whether you want to or not. Quitting the game doesnt work either.

We are all part of a big industry now and how that industry sees us has a huge impact our career as well as the clients we attack. People are the company.

In a creative profession seeing is believing. Usually most people can tell good design from bad. Even if they cannot articulate why and know what to do.

In User Experience it is the ‘why and what to do’ you want to know. The casual UX observer cannot usually tell good from bad. Even to the expert user it takes more than a cursary glance. I was asked to check over some work recently and my first impression was “wow this looks good and thorough”. But then as I started going through it I noticed an error, and then another and things went progressively worse. It was a massive specification and it took a full 6-8 hours before the full picture of the horror was revealed.

The problem is there is a skill shortage and with no standards. The bar to enter the industry is very low. Anyone can call themselves a User Experience Consultant. There are no mandatory qualifications. All a person needs is a few skills which mostly have to do with knowledge of how to use the tools. The tools themselves are cheap and easy to use. The methods vary widely.

What do you call a bad doctor who graduated at the bottom of his class? Answer: Doctor

In most professions there is no disctiction between good and bad. That is for their employers to deal with. In the User Experience profession it is highly unlikely anyone is going to die. However the sucess of a business or the sucess of the end system costing tens of millions of pounds maybe just down to the User Experience Practitioner’s skills.

Ford learned the hard way. In a recent article in the NY Times  poor user experience was blamed for the rating of the car plummenting from 5 to 20.

UX is finally growing up. In the early hurly-burly days there were no UX qualifications. Some people dove in head first and others took their time learning to swim. Anybody can learn and grow. There are no barriers to knowledge. I went to College for design, technology and pyscology. If I was in todays times it would be a degree in HCI. Instead it was a seemingly random selection of courses that to my career in UX. I have spent almost 20 years of learning and developing new skills to get to this point.

But while the degree should not be mandatory standard it is not. UX is also option to a lot of misinterpretation What is UX?. White papers are being submitted to professional bodies calling on stricter definitions and education in the industry.

Unitl there are industry standards, the best solution is to embrace it.  Make sure you are counted. Hiding is a huge mistake. You might as well put a sign around your neck that says I am a fraud and a con artist. Put your hands up and assess whether you got what it takes to work in user experience. Network and use the negative feedback to identify areas for improvement and learn. Accept and decide if you really want to be a UX practitioner. If you do then emerge yourself in the workshops, events, books and conferences to build real skills and knowledge. Mentoring could also be an option. Things change fast.

If you don’t, when you do finally take your head out of the sand, you might find that things have moved on so much you no longer have a career. Those that dont keep up are doomed to fail.


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What Good Looks Like


I have been spending a lot of time lately thinking and discussing with other UXers about where UX is going and how the lines are getting more blurred as UX becomes more pervasive. At the same time I still get dragged into the “UX 101” conversations that should have ended 10 years ago with people who profess to be experts.

The easy answer is that UX is was born about 15 years ago out of the user centred design processes. It was first applied in usability, user research and information architecture. UX now includes design and development skills sets as well as strategy. The principals and core objectives of UX however, have not changed. They have matured. UX is now a huge industry and widely understood. Clients themselves are very sophisticated.

Most people in UX know this and have a common understanding and know what good UX is. I see myself as a UX person first. Whatever deliverable I am producing (IA, strategy or design) I think about the person who is going to be using the end product or system.

What good looks like is the outcome. No one can hold up a sample and say this is good without explaining the thinking the decisions that have gone into it and why these were made and how they came to those conclusions.

To the casual observer a design or an information architecture can look good. Great even. This is why understanding what user experience is and being able to explain and measure it is the only way to avoid costly mistakes or interfaces that do not work.

As an example:

A lot of people think Microsoft does not create great experiences. They proudly share their insanity in a blog post. This has to be the top retweet for the UX community today. Most people thought it was a joke but here is the story about the “streamlined UI” from Seldo.

Orange text may look good to some people but it is not usable by everyone. Yellow on green is even worse. Some usability issues like those are easy once you know them and the reasons why. Skills like developing a taxonomy or using categorization become second nature. All of that falls in the realm of knowing what is best practice. Developing that knowledge is fundamental but that is just the foundation. It takes time and a lot of experience to become proficient in user experience. Picking up the tools and the skills are the easy part. The hardest part is keeping up and staying current.

UX design differs from non UX design by bringing a wisdom and depth of knowledge of what users want from the design as well as understanding persuasion. In some cases every element on the page has a rational that is based on user research and rigorous measuring for effectiveness.

It is not about memorizing or copying. The bar keeps getting higher and this is user driven. What matters most is understanding and studying user behaviour. Think how people do things and what their need state is as well as frame of mind and other considerations. Constant research and measuring the user experience are the only way to ensure a positive outcome.

This is why deep understanding of social media and mobile applications needs to be a part of the UX thinking. Keeping on the edge and looking into the future is the only way to keep up.

A lack of this understanding can make people defensive and get them to promote individual specialties at the expensive of others, often demonstrating a narrow mindedness that is counterproductive.

Good UX does not come in a box.


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Participatory Workshops Deliver Higher Value

Participatory workshops are not spectator sports. Participatory workshops are engaging, dynamic and are productive. At the end of the day there is something to show for all that time spent. Progress & value.

It is no wonder some people loath workshops. Sitting in a room for hours on end with a bunch of people not of your own choosing , classroom style, can be pure hell. The problem is that workshops often cater to the opinionated loud mouths who have read the book on assertiveness and have taken it to heart. They are the ones who want to stand at the front and be in charge or heckle from the back. In a workshop no one should be in charge. Moderate or guide, yes but that is different. At the end of the workshop this can result in negative feedback from some one who did not get their say and feels disgruntled.

Consider running workshops aimed at involving everyone and taking a more considered view. Look for innovative ideas to get people engaged.  Participatory workshops involve people and get them actively involved to foster real collaboration.

The principals are simple:

  • Seeing is believing, show rather than tell
  • If you must tell use stories, metaphors and anecdotes
  • Influencing instead of arguing or debating
  • Transparency to foster open discussions
  • Everyone has an equal say
  • Everyone is here for a reason
  • Suggestions are welcome and people are encouraged to speak up
  • We want questions as we seek to understand
  • We do not judge
  • Have fun


I use everything from white boarding to sketch pads and make extensive use of sticky notes. Later after a of couple initial workshops I may use clickable simulations and flows to project onto the white board and invite people to draw on top of it or fill in the blanks.

You can also consider projectors to project templates onto a white board from a projector tool like Axure to provide a talking point with a clickable simulation and capture feedback real time. Get people up drawing and filling in the blanks. Have people take turns presenting their ideas and thoughts and ensure everyone has a say. In workshops interactive tools can be used to great effect once enough initial information has been to bring the user journeys to life. Modifications can be made on screen during “think out loud walk-throughs”.

Activities for a positive outcome:

  • Plan the activities and get the materials – post it notes, white boarding
  • Create a “parking lot” to note ideas and issues not on the agenda for another time to keep the flow
  • Ask “what if” questions to get feedback from people who maybe less vocal
  • Break large groups up into smaller groups and assign tasks
  • Have other people take turns presenting
  • Have a goal and define what good looks like at the start
  • Allow people to take breaks to check messages
  • Capture the information and playback at the end to demonstrate what was accomplished
  • Feedback actions and plan the follow up activities
  • Ensure the right people are in the room – no spectators
  • Choose a comfortable and welcoming room
  • Establish clear goals and boundaries
  • Do not forget the biscuits 😉


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UX and the Agile Process

One of the questions asked is how UX fits into an Agile Methodology and the simple answer is that it does not automatically slot in. That is because Agile is not a design methodology, it is for development. It is not more useful for UX than it is a process for doing business strategy.


How do you make room for innovation in a factory.

The Agile process clashes with the UX method to create the user experience before construction begins. To the Agile community this can sound like “Big Design Up Front (BDUF).

Jakob Nielsen suggests that the problem has its roots in the fact that Agile was conceived of by programmers as a way of improving the development process. He has said

“mainly addresses the implementation side of system development. As a result, it often overlooks interaction design and usability, which are left to happen as a side effect of the coding.”

Agile and UX can work together with the right planning

The values of working the Agile way:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

The values of Agile are not too dissimilar to UX. UX is fairly a collaborative approach with end uses and stakeholders to visually capture the requirements by producing mock-ups. The end result is usually a key screen prototype with design style guides. The principal is that these are are both lightweight and easily refined as new ideas are introduced.

There is significant differentiation between small incremental projects and large-scale web or software development projects.

UX and Agile in small incremental projects

In small incremental projects a lean UX can work by having smaller UCD orientated cycles a sprint ahead of build or in some cases working with each other to solve nitty problems. These would be aligned to the work stack with a planning meeting at the beginning of each sprint to align the teams.

UX and Agile in larger complex projects

In a larger more complex projects there needs to be a lot more planning with the UX and it is essential the conceptual design is done up front. Conceptual models are not iterative yet they under pin the entire user experience in order to support the mental models of the users.

The gap between what the solution delivers and what end users expect can have catastrophic consequences on a business or brand. The team there for has a duty to ensure they fully understand the needs of the business as well end users so that the end solution is not compromised.

Creating engaging and innovative user experiences requires creativity. We need to allow for creative sessions and thinking so that ideas can be generated to support the brand proposition. Using a divergent and convergent process gives the conceptual phase of design focus and structure.


Managing the divergence and convergence when  to find solutions as well ensuring there is a resolution. The conceptual design phase broken into 3 steps.

Trying to capture a complete, accurate and exhaustive list of requirements is impossible. This almost never creates a usable and desirable solution. Without a prototype or model to view people find it difficult to imaging the outcome in order to evaluate the solution. This requires several iterations to get the degree of fidelity and definition.

You cannot refactor the UI as easily as you refactor code. When you change the UI you are changing the way people interact with the program, and you need to think about the impact the changes will have. It’s easy to create confusion, annoyance, and what psychologists call proactive interference (the prior experience with the UI making it hard for the user to learn a new way of doing things). All in all, making UI changes after release is generally unadvisable, so it pays to get the conceptual design right at the beginning. – Dr. Charles B. Kreitzberg

UX Conceptual Design Process

Click to view full steps

Not having a conceptual design up front is a big risk. The end result may be a poor user experience that requires a complete rethink of the user interface after launch. This may also impact how the system functions as the processes may need to be re-engineered and additional functionality to be implemented in order to create a more holistic user experience. In a consumer facing web environment the  impact to users by having a poor product may adversely effect their perception of the brand and have a determental knock on effect to the business.

The good news is that the UX process of  using as UCD methodology is not a full recipe where all the steps must be followed. Not all UX tasks need to be done. It depends on the project and putting the outcome first. It is about getting enough of an understanding to make a start and then continuing to plan, analyse and design.

To avoid the trap of BDUF it is important in the planning to agree the level of what will be delivered in the first “cut” of the detailed design. This should be the key pages of the system and over all structure. Each area can be further broken into chunks by functional themes. On that should be avoided is a page by page approach as this can create inconsistencies as tasks get split.

Using the user stories and creating a map is very similar to the walking skeleton used by Agile. However it is more visual can be used as a base line as well.

An advantage of having a conceptual UX design up front is that with the UX/Design specifications  they can be given to offshore build teams or multiple and less expensive resources for production.  These detailed design can then be done in smaller light weight sprints and concurrently if required. Ideally they could still be working to a sprint ahead.

The trick to making UX and Agile work is to focus on the individuals and interactions and not the process.


Do not escalate first & apologise later

Good communication results in less time wasted and zero apologizing. But what is good differs. We all want to be friendly, warm and helpful. Stiff, formal and clear can be detrimental to building relationships. How many times have you read emails that give you too much “over information”, in that they become patronizing?

The key is to try to strike a balance and get everyone on the team to ask first and shoot later. In a dysfunctional team it is shoot first. A quick phone call works best.

One of the first things we  learned was email etiquette. Among the things we we learned was that it was it was very difficult to read the intended conjecture in pure text. Punctuation also communicates a lot. I am sure most people know the pitfalls of exclamation marks and “Eats Shoots and Leaves”. So much information is lost by not having facial expressions, tone of voice,  body language and the ability to respond in real time.

To work around this people adopted a more formal and safe style of communication. But this is impersonal. Talking in plain language and using smiley face etc. to convey winks, frowns of what is sarcastic and what is serious has taken hold again in the workplace.

The problem is even with all these learnings  so much time still gets wasted on email. Here is a translation of email pitfalls:

  • Using “Guys” in a mixed team is sexist. On a team of mixed ages insulting. In these enlightened days probably intentional as well. Keep it generic – Hello, Hi, best regards.
  • CCing: How many people some one can CC for no particular reason. It says; “I just want to big myself up and do not care about the time of other people. I want to F* you over”. If they are in the conversation then CC away. If they are new then simply say “I need to forward this to…X as I do not have the answer to xxxx and then CC” Think first “is this helpful?”
  • Escalate first, “I have no idea what this means and because it might be bad I will escalate. I do not care about you or our working relationship. My intention is to F* you over.”  Phone, email or chat and then once you have the facts raise them in an objective and helpful manner.
  • Not sending an acknowledgement says “F* You”. Say thanks and give an appropriate action of what you will do with it.


It is the little things that can make your team dysfunctional or working together for a common interest. Email may not seem like a big deal but if it is wasting time then it is time to go back to Email Etiquette 101.


10 Tips for Launching Your Career in UX

Masterclass quote

Quote from Masterclass in Creativity by David O'Reilly

These should be “no brainers” and things every user experience practitioner should already know. However if you are wondering why some people seem to be flying ahead then maybe  it is time to look at the list and see if there is anything you can do.

  1. Do what users do – use the websites, tools, devices, widgets that users use. Know what is out there. You do not need to be a mum to know what goes on in Mumsnet. Surf.
  2. Collaborate, share ideas and discuss with other UX people. Give up the competitive power games and the arguing.
  3. Build up a portfolio that showcases what you are about and shows off your thinking. Do not copy others, be innovative and add value.
  4. Get involved in the industry. You would not want to be operated on by a doctor who has never heard of the medical board, would you?
  5.  Observe people and learn about the decision process and persuasion.
  6. Sketch and use cartoons. Add creativity to your approach.
  7. Play. Explore ideas and other approaches.
  8. Be curious about upcoming technologies and ideas. Read magazines like New Scientist, blogs, technology and product reviews. Good UX requires using lateral and critical thinking.
  9. Practice what you preach.  Think of the end user and do not make assumptions. Measure, get validation and back up design decisions with evidence not opinion.
  10. Put a quote on your site so that you will appear smarter.

Alternatively you can go into advertising. Here is a masterclass in creativity by David O’Reilly. Number 10 was a joke and from David.

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Mental Notes for User Experience

Came across these Mental Notes, from Stephen Anderson, and thought they might be great for workshops. On occasion I still find there is a lack of common understanding of what UX or user experience is.

These notes look like a great way to offer a fun teaser as a warm up excercise. I am interested to know if other people are using these and what results you have had.