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Month: November 2010

Barcamp London 8 – Day Two

The Journey In For Day Two

Since I’m worthless without a good night’s sleep, I’d decided to head home overnight and return reasonably refreshed for the second day of this event. This means that much like day one, I had to start the day with a journey in from just outside West London and a fight with the London Underground (which was, as is traditional, mostly closed). Unlike day one, though, I couldn’t just sleep on the train. I had a presentation to prepare for, as I’d decided on a topic to speak about and planned for my first act of the day to be picking a spot in the grid to accomodate my session.

I’m not going to write much about prepping my session (or presenting it) as I’ve already covered it elsewhere. Suffice to say that I created most of it on the train and tube, then finished it off whilst waiting for the first session of the day.

First Session – The Future of Barcamp London

Or “Tapdancing for Beginners” or “Dutch for Beginners”, as it became known to the participants who arrived early enough. This was a session presented by several of the key figures of Barcamp London, most of whom were looking like they could perhaps have done with a little more sleep at some point that week! Organising this kind of thing cannot be easy, so they deserve applause for being able to function at all – especially as they were also active participants in the event as well the the organisers.

The session itself was a plea for more people to get involved in running more barcamp or hackday style events, rather than continually growing a single, already oversubscribed Barcamp London. They also talked a bit about how their contacts and experience can help with that, and about how their resources might be brought to bear. Which I think is an awesome idea. Whilst I love the two large barcamp events, I can tell it’s going to be hugely frustrating when I lose out on the ticket lottery for one of them… if there are more events, then missing them occasionally will be less gutting. More events will mean more people will get a chance to participate, and the barrier to getting started won’t be quite as high.

Second Session – Why Online Social Media Isn’t a New Thing

Presented by Glenn Pegden / Tilt

An interesting session with a few gaps and a bias worn openly on its sleeve, this was a bit of a travelogue through early online communities and communication tools, starting with things like dial up BBSs, heading on through MUDs, MUSHes and talkers to things like Usenet and Prestel – all of which clearly are precursors to current social networks. I mentioned the open bias, though… and bias probably isn’t the right word. The speaker is clearly passionate about the Monochrome BBS, and a large chunk of the talk focussed on how that grew and evolved, and how a lot of current social network features could originally be seen there – and still can as it’s still running and in active use.

I never really got on with old-school BBSs and talkers, although I did dabble a little at times… mostly due to friends and acquaintances who used (or, indeed, use) them. Even with that in mind, I’m always interested to heat people who know a subject and care about it – and that’s what was happening here. Now that I’m more familiar with console / terminal based things than I ever was when they were state-of-the-art, I might be tempted to give Mono a look at some point. Back when this kind of thing was the only option, I was focussed on other things. Non text-based user interfaces were almost the enemy to be defeated, or at least the status quo to be surpassed (with the exception of text adventures, which were mighty). The fact that they’re still around says they’re getting something right, and it’s worth digging in to understand that and learn from it.

One thing that was touched on in the talk (which I think falls under “getting something right”) was the idea that the barrier to entry required by something in a terminal window kept the quality of discussion high. When getting in requires a certain amount of effort, people who make it are a) more likely to make worthwhile contributions and b) more likely to stick around. I’ve often said that community is often as much about exclusion as it is about inclusion, and this is a case in point. It’s a community for people who are savvy enough to want to get in and be able to get in.

Third Session – From Faraday to Fender: The Physics of the Electric Guitar

Presented by Dylan Beattie

I may not be a musician, but I am enthusiastic about music… and guitars feature heavily in a lot of music I like. Adding in the fact that I enjoyed a session from the same speaker last year, I kind of had to go to this one, really… and I’m glad I did. This was a fairly rapid run through of how and why guitars work, covering harmonics, scale lengths, string gauges, tension, the whammy bar and a fair bit more besides.

The whole lot was presented with humour, enthusiasm and an electric guitar, making for an informative and entertaining show overall.

Fourth Session – Levels of Digital Engagement with Customers

Presented by Lloyd Davis

I don’t actually remember much from this session. That’s not because it was a bad session, because it was actually quite interesting, but more because it wasn’t what I was expecting. I was expecting something about growing (or differing) adoption of online tools, but got something about engagement between brand and person. Like I say, interesting, but wasn’t what I expected. I’m also not quite sure what I can really say about it based on my hazy recollections, so I’m going to pretend I said something insightful and move on.

I probably just needed more coffee.

Fifth Session – University: Why did I bother?

This was a discussion session focussed around whether or not people felt university education had been worth it, was currently worth it, or would be worth it in future. There were no particular conclusions drawn, but I felt I had to chip in – I’ve noticed a trend amongst tech geeks to do two things… first, they dismiss any subject other than computer sciences and second, they then say that their computer sciences degree wasn’t worth the time and effort. It shouldn’t be too hard to spot the issue there. Thankfully, in this discussion, that didn’t seem to be the case.

For reference, whilst many folks I know seem to have decided that I’m a computer scientist or somesuch… I did my degree in Industrial Design. It was very, very worthwhile for three main reasons. First, it taught me that I didn’t want to be an industrial designer. Second, it taught me how to think design (some other things helped – more later), which is essential for what I do now. Third, it passed the time until my industry of choice became a viable option. I couldn’t have planned to work on the web before starting my degree – the web was there, but design wasn’t really a word that could be applied to it at that point. I was halfway through my degree when it became a career option.

I’m now going to digress a bit and flesh out that “more later” from above. Thinking design was also helped by two other things in particular: Fencing and Gaming.

Yes, my current physique hides the fact that once upon a time I was a passable fencer – I was actually school champion for two years running, one of which I think I even deserved. One of the things my instructor taught heavily was ODA – Observe, Deduce, Apply. See what people do, deduce how to use that, then apply your deduction. Whilst I don’t fence anymore (alas), I still do a lot of o
bserving and deducing… and when I can, I apply.

As for gaming, well, again, a lot of the kinds of game I do rely on being able to help the players suspend disbelief, move past constraints and percieve what you want them to. Learning to mess with people’s heads in a gaming environment has it’s uses for other fields as well.

But enough of that digression…

Sixth Session: A Rough Intro to User Experience Design

Presented by… wait, that’s me!

Yes, this was my slot. I wanted to present a slightly different view of User Experience design, whilst also explaining what it’s about. So I did. With sketches. I’ve already blogged about the session and how it went.

Lunch and Conversation

I ended up sitting having lunch with a few good folks, some of whom I can identify, some I can’t. I know I talked to @jack_franklin and @kaythaney – if you’re one of the other folks, please prod me on twitter and say hi!. It started as overflow questions from my talk… and rambled around a fair bit, including me pimping Leah Buley’s “UX team of one” talk and the UXLondon conference. I’m pretty sure I extolled the virtues of one other thing as well, but I can’t recall exactly what… I also kind of forgot to actually eat much, which was probably foolish.

The Blur & Journey Home

From here on out, it’s a bit of a blur. I know I went to an interesting talk by @DigitalMaverick on crowdsourcing and the closing session… and that I had a reason for not attending a session between the two, but I don’t recall much about any of those. So I’ll apologise for the disservice to those who ran the sessions I was at, and wind this post up with a mention that my first good, uneventful journey of the weekend was the last one, which got me home intact and without incident. Which was a good thing, since my brain had clearly shut down by that point.

Barcamp London 8 – Day One

What is BarCampLondon?

BarCampLondon is a participatory unconference. It’s generally techie and geek focussed, but the talks can be on any subject at all. The “Unconference” part basically means that there’s no pre-established running order – just slots in which talks and sessions can happen. What happens in them depends on what people decide to talk about and when they decide it. This is the second time I’ve attended a BarCampLondon, and once again I’m going to try to write up what I can remember of it… I took an assortment of notes over the weekend, so I should have at least a few recollections to work with!


The TFL website did a bang up job of making sure I was good and prompt. Knowing that half the tube was going to be broken this weekend, I looked to see how long it thought it’d take me to get here… and to see what route it recommended. Of course, I immediately spotted that it was telling me to use the Waterloo and City line before it opened, so I thought “I’ll give myself an extra 20 mins to handle that”. This meant I had to leave the house a bit before 7am. So naturally, I got there way too early. I arrived at the venue at 8:30am – fully an hour before things were due to kick off. They did offer to let me wait indoors, but I decided to go for a walk instead. I don’t get enough exercise as it is, and the weather wasn’t too horrific.

Unfortunately, there’s not much of interest in the gap between Angel and Old Street, so I basically wandered aimlessly for around 30 mins, then returned to the venue to wait inside. I ended up sitting with Jamie Knight (and Lion) and Alison Wheeler, who’d arrived between my first and second arrivals, whilst we waited for the world to be ready for us.

Welcome Session

Next up was the traditional welcome session, where we were told what’s what and informed who was paying for everything. Quite a good round of sponsors – they’re on the BarCampLondon 8 website. They also pointed us at the Lanyrd page for the event, which was handy. The session ended with the advice to get to the grid quickly and start filling it with the first batch of talks…

…which was slightly scuppered by the grid being on a small, crowded landing on the ground floor. The crew weren’t happy about letting too many people near it at once, so we couldn’t all go and add things and decide where we were going. The result was that I got to the grid when there were only two sessions on it. I probably missed a couple of early talks simply because they weren’t up on the grid yet, and I had to move away to let other people in to put them on there. Whilst I generally can’t fault the organisation, I will say that this probably wasn’t the wisest place for the grid – I think it’s more important that people can actually get at it than for it to be central!

First Session – Location Aware?

This was a fairly discussion heavy session, hosted by Alison Wheeler. Discussion sessions are frequently interesting, but are often difficult to write anything about afterwards. Two things that I distinctly recall – location aware services present two different issues, either of which can be problematic for some people:

  1. They tell people where I am, so they can find me when I might not want them to.
  2. They tell people where I’m not, so they can get at my stuff when I’m not there

A further point that was raised as something that makes the previous isses worse – many location aware services don’t give you much (or any) control over who can see your location data. Twitter was held up as an offender on this front as if there’s location data attached to a tweet, there’s no way to let somebody see the tweet without the data, and no way to remove the data without deleting the whole tweet.

In relation to the “letting people know where my location aware device is they can mug me and steal it” issue, one of the audience passed on a comment from an iPhone thief in San Francisco… “If I wanted to steal and iphone in San Francisco, the best way to do it was ask somebody the time. When they took out their iPhone, I’d take it”.

Second Session – Secret Life of Bees

Presented by Kerry Buckley

Earlier on, I described barcamps and being “vaguely techie”. Perhaps “geeky” is a better description, and this session fits that heading very well. It was an introduction to Beekeeping, which was really quite well attended, so it shows that a lot of geeks find it interesting. How it wortks has always been a bit of a mystery to me, so I was quite interested.

Amongst other things, the speaker put paid to the idea that the queen is in some way “in charge” of the hive – it’s blatantly the workers who run the show. They just need an egglaying machine to keep the hive running, so they either find a queen or make one by feeding a larva Royal Jelly. They also feed larvae differently to make drones… who are essentially useless except for being the other thing required to make the queen produce eggs, which they only do once. when eggs aren’t needed, the workers kick the drones out to starve to death, rather than wasting resources to feed them!

To sum up: I learned a few things I didn’t already know, and my vague interest in it as a topic remains.

Third Session – Lifestylelinking Open Source Project

Presented by James Littlejohn

At first, this was one of those “this all sounds very interesting, but I have no clue what you’re on about” sessions… but as it went on I managed to pull the various threads together to get a picture of what it was about. If I’ve got it right, this session was about an open source project called LifestyleLinking, which is a web application supporting automated content discovery based on information gleaned about your personal interests. Essentially, you point it at your blog and some other resources, and it works out the kinds of things you write about, then gathers resources based on that information and reveals them to me in an organised manner.

It all sounded a fair bit more involved than that, and it sounded like it would refine it in a lot more detail than my description suggests – but I’m still not 100% certain of any of that! I suspect I needed to be a bit more awake (or at least caffeinated) to get more from this session. As it is – I’m intrigued and would like to know more…

Fourth Session – High Performance CSS

Presented by Anthony Kennedy

This was an interesting session on optimising your CSS for file size and reduced HTTP requests. I’d have quite liked more details of the subsequent topics that the speaker had (quite reasonably) steered clear of for time, but the stuff that was left in was all good – and presented in a clear and interesting manner.

Fifth Session – Running Meetups using Social Networks

Presented by Nathan O’Hanlon

I was interested in this one as I’ve toyed with putting together a couple of meetups in the past – one gaming related, one tech related. I may still do so in both cases.

Anyway – Nathan has organised quite a few meetups, it seems, starting with pub meets in New Zealand, and lately the London Web Meetup. He gave a whole bunch of advice on how to go about setting them up – starting with being clear about your requirements for the meetup. His requirements included things like being able to network and keep sane as well as things like having an appropriate sized venue with a flat rate rather than a minimum drinks spend.

He also suggested hooking in to a pre-existing community, which is good advice as you can’t force a community int
o existance. That said, you can encourage and develop them – and social networks can provide a means to do that, which is part of why I was interested in this session.

After that, he went on to talk about a few older methods of getting things rolling – such as having a clear agenda, a good URL and a name that’s better than “The [place] web design meetup”. He talked about getting a core team together and discussing what works and what doesn’t, and adapting accordingly. He also mentioned once again that the venue is key – and this is where I find problems with arranging meetups or geek nights around here – I can’t find a venue that I think will work for anything other than a bunch of people in a pub.

Then came the newer methods, which were a bit more twitter focussed – namely asking your speakers (if you have them) to retweet, and when you tweet about the meetup, include speakers’ twitter names – the chances are that they’ll retweet. That way, people who follow your speakers will know about your meetup.

Of course – that’s all for before the meetup itself. What about during the meetup and after it? He suggested starting off a hashtag for the event and announce it at the event, so that coverage of the event can be found afterwards. Likewise, he suggested retweeting some of that coverage from the meetup’s own account – that way you’re publicising the event, the community and the hashtag as well as the original poster.

Sixth Session – Books for Freaks

Presented by Paula Schramm

This was another discussion session, focussed on an assortment of book recommendations. The speaker set the ball rolling by recommending Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, The Dispossessed by Ursula LeGuin and Medea by Christa Wolf.

Palfrey suggested The Star Fraction by Ken Macleod and The Android’s Dream by John Scalzi.

Ryan Alexander suggested Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, Blue Champagne by John Varley, Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud (Which I heartily second – I’ve also heard him speak at a UX conference, which was awesome), Born Standing Up by Steve Martin, Wikihistory by Daniel Warzel (aka: “Everybody Kills Hitler Their First TIme Out”), Emergence by Stephen Johnson and The Immortal Class: Bike Messengers and the Cult of Human Power by Travis Culley

Jessica Meats suggested the young adult SF Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins and took the opportunity to pimp her own first novel, Child of the Hive.

Ian Johnson suggested the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde and An Ode Less Travelled by Stephen Fry.

Melinda suggested Feed by Mira Grant (which I also second heartily – Zombie political thriller, what’s not to love?), Old Mans War and Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi (I heartily second the first of those – I’ve not read the second yet).

There were further suggestions, but I didn’t manage to note them down.

I tried to get a couple of recommendations out myself, but generally time was running short and so the same couple of people were rapid-firing the last of theirs and I didn’t get a chance… but if I had, I’d have put up Anathem by Neal Stephenson (which is best summed up by this webcomic) and Accelerando by Charles Stross… the latter of which has a couple of problems but is awesome nonetheless – it’s like future shock in book form.

Seventh Session – How Photographs Tell Stories

Presented by Paul Lowe

I didn’t get any notes on this one, but it was an interesting walk through documentary photography…

Eighth Session – Why I’m Not Using HTML5

Presented by Jamie Knight + Lion, with an interlude from Glyn Wintle

This was an interesting session which I think was derailed a bit by the security aspect added by Glyn Wintle. I was quite interested in the accessibility concerns that Jamie was raising, but they didn’t really get much of a chance to come through…

Ninth Session – What’s Wrong With “It Just Works”

Presented by David E (eastmad) & Abizer

This session seemed a bit like a good idea at first, but seemed to hinge around the idea that everybody should want the same thing and one approach should be sufficient to please everybody… I left partway through.

Tenth Session – Improvised session on how DIY is ruining the world.

Presented by Paula Schramm

This rapidly turned into an economics discussion, and so went over my head entirely. The concept of money and the psuedoscience that’s grown around it bugs me.

End of Day One (for me, anyway)

At this point, I’d pretty much had enough of being sociable. I’d had a rough week, with some pretty significant personal upheavals and my mood was starting to crash. I thought it best to leave for the day before I started getting cranky at people… so I set out for a slightly smoother train journey home and a reasonable night’s sleep.

A Rough Intro to UX Design


Over the past weekend, I took part in Barcamp London 8. There will be another blog post about the event in general in the near future, but for the moment I’m going to focus on the session I presented there, which was titled “User Experience Design – A Rough Intro”.

In true barcamp style, the presentation was more than a little “seat of the pants”. I didn’t stay overnight as I really don’t function well without sleep, so I started my second day by leaving the house a little before 8am to begin my journey to the venue. At this point, I had no clue what I was going to present. The previous day, a couple of folks had suggested they might be interested in a talk outlining what User Experience Design actually is – so I thought I’d see what I could come up with for that. So when I got on the train, I pulled out my sketchbook and started to scribble some ideas down.


Lo-Fi Presentation

At this point, I’m going to leap ahead a bit and mention a decision that I made later on… namely that I wasn’t going to use my laptop at all in the presentation. I’d started out carrying the laptop around on the first day, and found it to be something of a pain in the arse. It’s not a big, bulky laptop… but you still have to shift it about, power it up, put it into standby and generally fight with it. If you wanted to shake somebody’s hand whilst carrying it and a drink, you had to juggle things or find somewhere to put it down. So I decided on Sunday that I’d only get it out if I needed it. Initially, I thought I’d need it for my presentation… and I had been planning on doing some sketches, taking photos of them and then using those photos in my slides.

But then I remembered four things:

First, I hate making slides.

Second, many of the presentation rooms had “visualisers” – which are like a hi-tech version of the old overhead projectors – they’re basically a webcam that points onto an illuminated plinth so that you can put things on the plinth and have them projected onto a screen. This meant that photographing my sketches and building a presentation around them would basically be a waste of time. So the laptop stayed in my bag the whole day – and all I lost were the updates via twitter and lanyrd.

Third: When you use presentation software, you nearly always have to compromise between what you want and what it’ll let you do. You can spend hours trying to convince powerpoint to do what you want. Generally, you don’t need to spend hours trying to get your hands to do what you want – they get pretty close right away thanks to a handy neural interface.

Fourth: Wordy powerpoint is a barrier to communication. People read the screen instead of listening, and then get bored whilst they wait for the slow, boring talky man at the front to catch up with their reading.

So rather than using my sketchbook to come up with some ideas and doodles to put in my presentation… I decided that the sketches would be the presentation. They would be both my slides and my notes – sketching them was my sole preparation.

Sketch One – What is UX Design?

After a bit of fighting with the visualiser, and trying to get my sketchbook to stay open in the right places (the lo-fi equivalent of the inevitable laptop cable swapping and associated “nothing works like you expected” discoveries), I started off with the following sketch:

Sketch of things people say about UX design

When I had this up on the screen, I tried to make two main points:

First – if you ask anybody who’s not a user experience designer to explain user experience design, you’ll get a different answer.

Second – if you ask anybody who is a user experience designer to explain user experience design, you’ll probably get several different answers.

Whilst I was explaining this, I went through the responses in the sketch… so I’ll do that here too:

“Isn’t it just part of design?”

Yes. So’s pretty much everything else. Design is a word with a very broad scope. As an example, it can cover anything from designing fancy gilded patterns on the cover of a wedding photo album, through planning the underlying architecture of a piece of software to deciding how a piece of industrial machinery should be constructed to make the most efficient use of materials.

“Useless. A good web designer does it already”

A good web designer should indeed be doing it already, but it’s not necessarily their main focus, and as such they may not be able to give it the time it deserves. If they can, then that’s awesome and I don’t think you’ll see any good user experience designers complaining!

“Isn’t it just part of product management?”

As with web designers, a good product manager is indeed probably doing a certain amount of user experience design… but again, it’s not necessarily their main focus. They’ll probably be looking at what users want and need, but may well not have the time to get very heavily engaged in how those needs are actually implemented.

“Wishy Washy Nonsense!”

Sometimes it is a bit wishy washy and difficult to pin down. Other times, it’s one of the few forms of design that you can test and apply metrics to. It gets “wishy washy” around the points where you have to start doing something before you can collect data about it…

“Another name for UI design?”

This is another place where there’s a strong overlap – and if you’re working on software or a web application, it’s even stronger. But once again, there’s a slightly different focus – and one I’ll address in a bit more detail later.


It’s quite easy to mistake the outcome of a process for the process itself, and this is a common one. Wireframes are a tool that user experience designers can use to convey ideas to others – but they’re usually a tool that comes quite late in the process. A lot of the time, they’re the first contact developers have with the user experience design process… which is usually a problem, rather than a desired situation for the designer.

“An excuse to pad a CV?”

Alas, much like web design was in the late nineties and early 2000’s, user experience design has become a buzzword. The same way that anybody could say they were a web designer because MS Word had a “save as HTML” button, anybody can say they’re a user experience designer because they know a couple of buzzwords. So the field has a little bit of an image problem at the moment…

What next?

So… having made it clear that if you ask 5 user experience designers what UX design is, you’ll get at least ten answers… I embarked on explaining what user experience design is. You should, by now, understand that a lot of user experience designers will disagree with me. You should also understand that I think that’s just fine.

Sketch Two – Design is a Spectrum

Design is a spectrum - UX Design is a point on that spectrum

There a whole bunch of different forms of design, and they can all fit onto a huge spectrum. That spectrum also includes things that people would argue aren’t design at a
ll, but I’d say are at the very least related fields. The small and non-exhaustive (and not really ordered) list that I came up with for this sketch is as follows:

  • Content authoring
  • User research
  • Ergonomics & athropometrics
  • Cognitive ergonomics
  • Product design
  • Interaction design
  • Graphic design
  • UI design
  • “traditional” web design (which I rambled around a bit, but by which I essentially mean “web design where the designer doesn’t do much UX design).
  • Front end development

This lead me directly on to the next sketch…

Sketch Three – Designers, being fickle beasts, rarely tick just one box!

Circle containing many different design discipines I identify with.

For the next bit, I used myself as an example to show that anybody who considers themselves in any way a designer almost certainly covers more that one point on the design spectrum.

Some of the areas I associated with myself for this sketch were as follows:

  • Industrial design – I’m an industrial designer by training.
  • “Traditional” web design – I did a lot of this in the mid 90s.
  • Interaction design – again, I did a fair bit of this in the mid 90s, but as a distinct thing from web design – they didn’t come together for me until the late 90s/early 2000s.
  • Product design – tied quite heavily to industrial design. It was the “course next door” whilst I did my degree and we shared a lot of modules!
  • Lighting design – I’m an amateur theatre lighting designer, I run the lighting for a local comedy club and I’ve done lighting for several small gigs and events.
  • Theatrical production design – I’ve done a reasonable amount of set and prop design and construction.
  • Interactive fiction design – See many of the other posts on this blog and you’ll get an idea of what I mean!
  • Environment design – Making a physical space convey a mood. This ties in with the theatrical stuff and the interactive fiction stuff.
  • Process design – difficult to quickly pin down – basically, planning and designing ways of doing things.
  • Service design – planning how people will perceive and interact with a service you provide, understanding contact points and how things need to happen between them, etc…
  • Front-end engineering – making things actually work effectively in a user interface, web page, etc…
  • Hardware hacking – I’m an avid (if not very experienced) arduino tinkerer. I’ve also taught people to control custom hardware with software before, as well as teaching them to solder.

The point I was making is that whilst I’m a user experience designer, I also do a whole bunch of other forms of design. I’m far from alone in that – in fact, it’s my belief that anybody who says they’re a designer in just one discipline is probably misguided.

In essence, user experience designers don’t only do user experience design, and people who are not user experience designers may well still do user experience design. It comes down to where you specialise and what you self-identify as, rather than what you actually do. You might not need a user experience designer for user experience to be done… but if it’s not being done, or not being done enough, then a user experience designer means you’re getting a specialist who’ll make sure it gets the attention it needs.

Sketch 4 – Where Do They Focus?

UX design focus on area between user's life and UI, UI design focus on area between user and product backend.

Earlier I mentioned that I’d cover the often misunderstood relationship between UI design and UX design in greater detail… well here it is.

This sketch is intended to show where the two overlap and where they don’t. It comes after the previous sketch because I wanted it kept clear that we’re talking about the roles… not the people who fill them.

The idea is that there are several areas to be focussed on, which are (from left to right):

  • The user’s life, including the following parallel areas:
    • Other things in their life that they want or need to do
    • Other things that they have to spend time on
    • Other people they have to work with
  • The users, of which there are many different types (although contrary to the sketch, it is unlikely that some of them will be small dogs or will have two heads).
  • The users’ interaction with the product (or thing you are designing)
  • The product (or thing you are designing) which breaks down into the following (again, from left to right):
    • User interface
    • Logic
    • Backend (Model, database, etc…)

The Focus of UI design

User interface design focusses most heavily on the areas between the product backend and the user. UI design’s main areas of concern will generally be between the user and the user interface, but it will often need to be aware of and informed by what is going on behind the scenes.

The Focus of UX design

User experience design focusses most heavily on the areas between the product UI and the rest of the user’s life. UX design’s main areas of concern will generally on how the user interface can make the user’s life better or easier, and so it will need to be aware of an informed by the other things going on in their lives.

How do they relate?

As you can probably guess, these two overlap a lot. User experience designers are likely to also do a fair bit of user interface design, and user interface designers are likely to also do a fair bit of user experience design. That doesn’t mean the two fields are identical, just that they overlap – it’s difficult to be good at one without being at least competent at the other. Hence the confusion.

Sketch Five – UX Tools

A collection of people based and diagram based UX tools

The main reason to put this slide up wasn’t so that I could run through a selection of tools and how to use them (although I did do that), but was instead so I could say clearly that these are all tools, not the end result. Too many people seem to think that because they’ve made some personas and produced some wireframes, they’ve finished doing user experience design. Instead, what they’ve done is produce some tools to convey ideas. If those ideas don’t get followed up on, iterated and carried through effectively to the final product, then what you’ve actually done is waste some effort. The real deliverable for a user experience designer isn’t some diagrams or a report – it’s users having a good and appropriate experience with the product. Tools alone, no matter how useful, won’t achieve that – although they do make it a lot easier to get there when used effectively.

The tools I mentioned were as follows:

  • “People based” tools
    • Personas & Archetypes – These are detailed descriptions of different users you may be designing for. They’re very useful when dealing with product manag
      ers, sales, marketing and senior staff… but often too high level for developers to really sink their teeth into – they have to wade through a lot of detail that’s not immediately relevant before they find the gems that are.
    • Pragmatic Personas – I use these as a tool to bridge from the rich, detailed and high level personas (and any other info we have on users) to user stories and test cases that developers can work with. They can be much more focussed on work that’s ongoing, and provide a link between who a user is, what they need, and what the implementation implications are.
    • User interviews – How else can you get to know your users? Actually, there are other ways, but they’re always at at least one remove – using analytics, or discussions with support or sales. None are as good as actually talking to users, provided you’re aware that the user you’re talking to is a single example and may not be representative of all of them.
    • User testing & analytics – if you have something, and you want to make that something better, running it by real users and seeing how they do is a good idea.
  • Box, Arrow and Squiggle based tools
    • Card sorting – scribbling things on cards or post-it notes, then grouping them based on either predefined or emergent criteria. Very handy tool for producing other tools.
    • Information Architecture – A plan for how content or components fit together. If you’re not careful, this can turn into a rigid sitemap or heirarchy rather than a flexible plan or scheme which will allow for future growth to fit in, resulting in that growth being bolted on to the side or crammed in where it doesn’t really fit.
    • User flows – these are a staple of interaction design, detailing the steps a user should go through to achieve a goal.
    • Concept models – sometimes you need to explain an idea in some detail, and you need other people working on your project to really be able to understand that idea so they can keep calling back to it. Concept models can help with that. (example 1, example 2)
    • More sketches than are probably healthy – if you think of something, sketch it. Seriously. Then you can expose the inner workings of your brain to other people without the need for surgery.

Sketch Six – UX Culture

Various people in an organisation, and the kinds of conversations they might have with a UX designer

The most useful thing for any UX designer is to not be the only person involved in and responsible for the user experience. They might be the only person who focusses on it entirely, but they need a lot of other people to be thinking about it as well. They need to be bouncing their ideas and thoughts off everyone else in an organisation, getting feedback from them. Even more importantly, they need to be making sure that people from different parts of the organisation talk to each other about the user experience.

Whilst the ultimate ideal of user experience design is to have the user experience be the sole concern, reality does have this habit of intruding. Release dates, budgets, implementation concerns, sales and marketing issues,etc… do all exist, and when it comes down to it they are often important – without them the product you’re making might never see market. If users never experience your product, you can’t really call it a successful user experience.

The best situation to be in is one where everyone working on the project is able to raise concerns about the user experience, or the work that maintaining it will entail. If a developer says that what the UX designer is asking for is too expensive, there needs to be a conversation between the product manager, the development team and the user experience person to determine if a compromise can be reached, or if a partial implementation is good enough in this release, with an improved implementation in the next release.

What is most important is that everyone is able to understand how decisions can affect the user experience, and how user experience decisions can affect everything else. With a dedicated user experience designer, you have somebody who’s job it is to make sure those implications are clear and understood, and to facilitate discussions around them so that the people who make the final call can do so in an informed manner.

The Rise of the iPhone Zombie

Lurching Towards Oblivion

Every morning and every evening I have to brave the outside world to make my way from where I sleep to where I spend my days. This has never been a pleasant task, but in recent years a new threat to my sanity has risen.

It started with just the odd one or two, but now I see them everywhere. Standing or slowly walking, as if in a daze, with shoulders slumped forward and downcast eyes. Their faces, slack jawed and vacant, show a feint blue tint, more visible in darkness or in the half light of morning or evening – by the warm light of day you might not even see what they have become. Try to speak to one and, if they even notice, they will most likely not respond with anything more than a grunt before continuing exactly as they were before. Ask them to move aside and you’re likely to be met with a snarl or a growl.

They seem oblivious to the world around them as they lurch their way around the streets, paying no heed to the safety of others, or indeed of themselves. They pay no heed to events around them – stepping into traffic or stumbling blindly into each other. Such considerations mean little to them now. All that matters now is their new source of nourishment – provided to them by the sickness that has eaten into their minds. They hunger only for updates or news, which can only be supplied by their iPhone.

But it’s even more insidious than that… the iPhone plague has removed their self. Their very essence of being is gone, subsumed by updates from the other. They have no care for themselves or their immediate surroundings, only what is happening elsewhere and to other people. They, themselves are gone – all that remains is a shell that lives only to consume data.

But there is still hope…


Maybe we can save them!

The iPhone Zombie lives to consume data, and one form of data that they consume most readily is the app. It may be possible to use these apps as the vector for a form of innoculation – a means to remind these poor creatures that they have self. A small few who have been exposed to the iPhone menace have proven to be resistant, and are able to continue to function as normal human beings. We need these brave people, and we need to make use of their rare immunity.

Some of these brave few may be able to concoct our innoculation. They may be able to create apps to do the following:

  • Periodically remind the iPhone’s victim to look up and survey their immediate surroundings for hazards or annoyed people, and to move or act accordingly. If this can include a game where you score points for actively not blocking pavements (sidewalks for you american types), doorways or roads, then we might be on to a winner.
  • Periodically remind the iPhone’s victim to acknowledge the presence of the friends they are out with. Again, a game where points can be scored for engaging in meaningful dialogue without iPhone interruptions could be a good thing.
  • Periodically remind the iPhone’s victim that they have physical presence – the iphone has a camera and various motion sensors. Perhaps adding a dashboard that reminds the user that they are moving and should perhaps look where they are going, or even visually and audibly alerts them to the presence of other people (or at least, their feet) in the camera’s view. Whilst it might be beneficial to also alert based on the presence of inanimate objects, this is less urgent – sudden unexpected contact with such items has two beneficial effects: first, it tends to break the iPhone’s hold over it’s victim for a few seconds as their self is shocked back to the surface. Second, it provides the rest of us with one of the few moments of light hearted relief from the knowledge of what our friends have lost.

I’m sure there are many other ways that we could start the long, hard process of rehabilitation, but these would be a start. Lets hope they come into being sooner rather than later.

Other Strains…

The iPhone Zombie is not the only strain out there. New variants are appearing daily, but they are, as yet, less immediately obvious. This isn’t to say they’re less insidious – just that they are harder to identify.

In all seriousness

This morning, I once again had an iPhone zombie stop sharply right in front of me, completely blocking the pavement. I also saw somebody blindly step out into traffic whilst staring blankly at their iphone screen. I saw somebody miss their stop on the train because an iPhone zombie wouldn’t get out of the way of the doors, or even acknowledge the presence of people trying to get past them. Having space to view their screen was more important than other people’s journeys.

I am aware that there are many considerate and reposible users of mobile internet technology. This post is directed at the other kind. If you are reading this on your iPhone, please try not to be one of them. Look up once in a while. Try not to walk into traffic. Look your friends and faimily in the eye, and try to listen to a whole sentence once in a while without looking at your iPhone.

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