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 That model is becoming outdated as the internet moves off  computer monitors and lap tops to tablets, the TV and onto glass.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.  










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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).


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.


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.


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


Blue butterflyJ

Bow Butterfly

Site to be launched. Complete site design and build including the social media strategy: Facebook page, Twitter, Polyvore and other sites. This an early draft and work in progress. As I will be adding new features and iterating the images will be increased and updated. Real work in progress!


[slider name=”#” cat=”” slides=”-1″ effect=”random” caption=”false” arrows=”true” arrow_type=”1″ /]

think outside the box in vintage wood type

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.


january 21010 632

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 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 😉