Things what I writ

I sometimes write nonsense about things to try and sound clever

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Digital Creatives at the Hot Source 7×7

Last week I was kindly invited to take part in the Hot Source 7×7 event hosted at our very own Foolproof Group offices in Norwich. Hot Source is a community collective of digital creative, natives, professionals, amateurs, enthusiasts, start-ups, business owners, in fact, anybody who might have anything to do with digital in and around Norwich

The last Thursday of every month, we gather together, have a couple of drinks, and invite a couple of folks to talk about something that means a lot to them and might be of interest to the rest of us. And very nice events they are too. This time around, we thought we might change the format slightly, to get a few more people up and talking and, on a warm summer evening, get a little more informal.

The short-form talk format is pretty popular these days and allows a pretty diverse set of subjects to be covered in a short space of time. In this case, seven speakers each had seven minutes to talk about something that mattered to them. As you might expect from such a broad community, the subject matter varied greatly, which is what makes these kind of events really dynamic. Tom Wood, who helped put the schedule together, seemed to strike a good balance with the speakers and subjects. Tom Wood, who helped put the schedule together, put me on last. I can’t think why.

Diversity

So, after a few beers and some excellent charcuterie, things kicked off with a Mr George Wood, who was known rather personally to our Mr Tom Wood (Dad), who gave us an insight into the wonderful world of Minecraft, with a live demo included. Nobody wanted to follow that, but one by one, the other speakers gamely stepped up to talk about Google author profiles, the History of Advertising Trust, using the Gmaps API to create fabulous visualisations, 10 hateful things about user interfaces, and a great showcase of TV production that comes out of Norwich. And me.

Not wanting to disappoint, with me being in the ‘put him on last’ slot, I delivered what has subsequently been described to me as ‘some kind of performance theatre’, on the subject of why technology is great but is also rubbish. If I tell you it involved me talking to myself on a failing video conference for 7 minutes, then you can fill the blanks yourself. Hugely enjoyable. Questionably engaging.

In the end, the point of Hot Source is to provide a forum for like-minded people to meet, talk and discuss things that matter to us. It’s mostly digital, but that doesn’t mean we have some heavy-handed governance the precludes related topics. If it’s interesting, if it’s relevant, we want to hear about it. More importantly, gives people the chance to talk about it. If you’d like to get involved, head over to the Hot Source site for more.

Meeting Dave Gray

Dave Gray 1
dave gray 1 by Tim Caynes

I mean, he had really important stuff to do, like meeting with people from banks and a summit or two to present at, but, you know, it would be nice to just kind of hang out.

This pretty much describes Dave. Insightful, artistic, clever and thoughtful, but more than anything, just a great guy to hang out with. So when Dave announced he was coming over to London, I thought there was probably a way we could facilitate some kind of meetup, whereby we could invite a few folks over for a bit of a chat.

After assuring Dave that yes, more than three people would turn up, I quickly set about the logistics of getting the thing set up and in a few hours, everything was in place.

Fireside chat

The first thing you notice about Dave is that not only is he larger than life, he’s larger in life. I’m pretty tall. Dave is taller. The second thing you notice is that he’s just so enthusiastic about everything.

We chatted about his time in London, we chatted about the venue, we took a few photos, we chatted about lenses, we looked out the window, we chatted about architecture and it’s place in modelling communities and behaviours. We chatted about lots of things. In fact, we just chatted until attendees started arriving, and then they joined the chat. And then more joined. And we had beer. And chatted some more.

And that really set the tone for the evening. I’d set myself up as some kind of compere, but really, it just turned into something of a fireside chat, with 30 friends. Dave and I sat at the front of the room and I occasionally acted the debate host and fielded questions, but for the next hour or so, it was really just about Dave meeting new faces and just, you know, hanging out.

Of course, we did cover a wide range of topics, including gamification, connected companies, UX strategy, best and worst experiences, most trusted methods, and some great tales of corporate workshops. I’ll go into more detail on those in later posts, so look out for messages about those.

We finished pretty much as we started – just chatting together in the loft as the cleaners tried to clean around us. As people said their goodbyes, it was extremely gratifying to hear how much they had enjoyed the evening, particularly the informal, open format. I had similar conversations at the UK UXPA careers event the week before. It’s so nice to come to event like this and just, you know, hang out.

Who wants to hang out?

A huge thank you to Dave for being so engaging and entertaining, and to Raj at Sense Worldwide for helping us out with the excellent Sense Loft. If I had to sum the evening up, I don’t think I could do it any better than the photo of Dave within this post. A great time was had by all.

Learning workshops at a workshop workshop

Last night I plodded through the rain from a full day of usability testing to attend the latest UXDO practical session at Fortune Cookie in Clerkenwell. I took a lot from the previous better writing session with Martin Belam and Cennydd Bowles, and was looking forward to this session on better workshop facilitation. A workshop workshop, if you will. One of the main draws of the event was, again, the quality of the speakers that Sjors Timmer had managed to line up. This time, Leisa Reichelt and Giles Colborne were leading the session. Any time I’ve seen them speak, either on a stage, or at a bar, they always have something valuable to pass on and have a great, engaging style that really draws you in.

Having scribbled my twitter name on a post-it note and stuck it on myself (UX event protocol these days) I joined the session a few minutes late and notwithstanding Jonty’s assertion that he was drinking all the beer, I managed to pick one up and get stuck in. Which is the point of the UXDO sessions – to just get involved with your peers and learn what you can from each other. As Leisa mentioned, many of us have run successful workshops and are happy facilitating, but there’s always an opportunity to share those experiences, listen to others and discover new techniques and approaches that might take you just slightly out of your comfort zone and help make you a more well-rounded practitioner.

The thrust of the evening was, for the 25 or so of us, to identify what the barriers are to us being successful in facilitating workshops and how we might come up with solutions to help us overcome or address them. That was done over a 2 hour sprint of a workshop by way of brainstorming, affinity sorting, defining problem statements, comparing, ranking and collating, discussion and identifying solutions and rolling it all back together again. We threw in a bit of KJ method and shared tips and techniques along the way and, in the end, came away pretty satisfied with our outputs. At least, I was pretty satisfied. I mean, it was a pretty unrealistic workshop set up, but it was really successful in exposing methods, focusing objectives, setting expectations and understanding the kind of issues that might need considering in most workshop scenarios.

Leisa and Giles are even writing the whole thing up, which is an admirable commitment to the UX cause. Thanks to them for facilitating a great evening of learning and sharing. I even managed to crash the UX after-party (pub), since I didn’t have to travel back to Norwich, and had a rather nice conversation about the UX of allotments with Leisa and shared a ‘we seem to be the last ones here’ moment with Boon and Jeff before heading back to the hotel in Euston to watch an extraordinary football match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid on Spanish TV, which was rather less well facilitated than the workshop, it has to be said.

Usability and the Business Analyst: Smuggling UX at the UK IIBA

There’s a new contraband changing hands in clandestine boardroom exchanges in the most powerful businesses in the land. It doesn’t fall off the back of a lorry, or get swept up on the beach, following the sad demise of some stricken thought tanker, however. No, this new currency is traded under the cover of business analysis. This illicit commodity is user-centred design

I recently attended an event run by the UK chapter of the International Institute of Business Analysis, hosted at Credit Suisse, in their rather nice offices at Canary Wharf. The event was a panel-based discussion of how user experience and business analysis might gracefully collide, somehow becoming something more than the sum of their parts. Put another way, how does user-centred design affect the business analyst?

The panel

On the panel were erstwhile and engaging practice professionals from both sides of the collision: Cennydd Bowles and Chandra Harrison, with many years in user-centred, experience and interaction design (other design practices are available) and Jake Markham, who built the business analysis and design practise up at Credit Suisse. It was chaired by Nick de Voil, from De Voil Consulting, who conveniently bridged the gap between user experience and business analysis.

Nick Dunlavey of Information Architects, who had invested significant effort in pulling the event together (largely crowdsourced via twitter, incidentally, in case you’re wondering how a meeting of UX and BA professionals in an investment bank gets put together), kicked off proceedings in the plush 7th-floor theatre with an admission. He has been smuggling UX into projects. Appropriately, he’s been using Cennydd’s Undercover User Experience Design book as a reference to do that, and thought it would be a good idea to try and link usability and the business analyst.

To set the context for the discussion, Chandra and Jake took some time to talk about, respectively, what user-centred design and user experience is and where we are with it right now, and the development of the business analysis skills and competencies framework for Credit Suisse.

Understanding user experience

Chandra gave a whistle-stop tour of UX, from its mostly overlooked early development in product design to its subsequent and most recent focus on user satisfaction, via world war one biplanes, personas and skills matrices. She was careful to describe user experience as ‘just a term we use at the moment’ and to be clear that ‘user experience’ is not a profession, but, rather, it simply describes ‘what users experience’. What we really do, as practitioners, is apply user-centred design as an approach to system design that supports those experiences. As it turns out, most of the tools and techniques we use to do that are very similar to the tools and techniques that business analysts use, but, critically, we talk about them in very different ways. It might be rather too simplistic to say that business analysts focus on business and user experience designers focus on users, but it’s definitely the user that is the differentiator. The depth of understanding and appreciation of user behaviours, gained from years of observation and dialogue, is what user experience brings to the business analysis party. And then eats all the canapés.

Business analysis and user experience

Following Chandra, Jake was also keen make an admission before he began his talk. He is also a ‘professional smuggler of user experience’. Since Jake is responsible for defining the activities of the business analysis and design group at a company like Credit Suisse, this is good news indeed. In talking us through his own history at the company, we got an invaluable insight into how a global investment banking business is defining its business analysis function and how closely that may be aligned to user-centred design practices. Ultimately, the business analysis function is about identifying needs, collaborating on requirements and facilitating solutions, but it’s focused clearly on the bottom line for the business and the customer. Conversely, the user-centred design function is about identifying needs, collaborating on requirements and facilitating solutions, but focused clearly on user needs. This means that there are clearly opportunities to embed used-centred methods into the business analyst skills and competencies framework and satisfy goals for business benefits and enhanced user experiences.

As I read the definitions of the four roles that have evolved from Jake’s business analysis taxonomy, I was simply changing the job titles for those we use in user experience and the descriptions were pretty consistent. For Business Architect, read Information Architect and you’re nearly there. In line with a comment Cennydd later made about the demise of specific ‘user experience’ roles, I don’t really see the need for the fifth, UX-specific role Jake suggested they might need. Rather, the user-centred design methods and practices should pervade across all roles.

In the middle of all this, Jake also put up a slide that had some enormous numbers on it that spoke to the scale to which a global investment banking business like Credit Suisse operates, at which point I had to check I was wearing the right glasses.

Questions, answers and opinions

On to the panel session itself, and thanks to a brief introduction by Nick, I think I now know what a lasagne panel is. I can’t imagine why I never knew before.

The debate was eloquent, lively and, with the inclusion of Cennydd, was determined not to just turn out stock answers or platitudes. For the most part, the panel vehemently agreed when questioned on things like the business benefit of usability, quantitative measurement, accommodating user requirements without scope creep (BAs love scope creep), and the perception of user experience design operating exclusively in the digital space, on web and web apps. One of the emerging themes was the business benefit of creating ‘value through change’ rather than working to functional requirements. I can’t say I grasp this concept well enough to say whether I agree or not, but if it means understanding user needs, and designing, possibly disruptively, for that, then I’m all for it.

I’ll be honest, I took more notes when Cennydd spoke than when others did, since he catches the zeitgeist of my profession better than anyone else right now, but I did admire Chandra’s enthusiasm and deliberately wider view of usability and Jake’s measured, literate and erudite responses. However, Nick de Voil probably expressed the relationship between user experience and business analysis best:

User experience practitioners have permission to ask people how they work, operate, and do what they do. This approach has emerged as accepted practice in the last few years and it is this that makes them a powerful ally for business analysts.


As I have spent a number of years as a globalisation manager for a large corporation, I was amused to see that nobody wanted answer a question on globalisation strategy. I think we all know you might as well ask for alchemy on toast. I was also reminded, from previous work with another investment bank, that if someone from a global trading division asks a question, you need to be ready. They are scarily efficient in their questioning and can spot flannel through walls of lead.

If you thought about going to this event because it had ‘UX’ in the title, but didn’t go because it had ‘BA’ in the title, you missed a trick. Both our professions require a broadness of understanding that can only be developed through immersion, discourse and appreciation. Many thanks to Nick Dunlavey, the UK IIBA, Credit Suisse, and, of course, the panellists for a thoroughly enjoyable and enlightening evening.

And there was caviar. You’ll go next time, won’t you?

Writing to be read: A workshop on being a better writer

Martin Belam and Cennydd Bowles have written popular and successful books, articles and blogs on user experience. On Tuesday evening, I attended a writing workshop, where they shared tips, tricks and best practise for ‘better writing’.

I write too much. When I write about an event, I fill the page with clever, but meaningless sentences. Seeing the details of the workshop, I thought it would be a great way to learn from others and share opinions on what makes a better writer. It ended up being all that and more. It was an insight into methods and practices that Martin and Cennydd use in their own writing, highlighting that personal approaches to writing differ, but common creative techniques and some rigorous editing can nearly always improve output.

First off, Martin shared some of the tactical armoury he has developed through his own writing. He focused on tips and tricks for writing to be read and was able to provide some excellent examples of the dramatic impact simple devices can have. Some of his advice was common sense, while some was quite crafty. Some was plainly evil, but, nonetheless, common practice, when writing with particular targets in mind.

Cennydd, on the other hand, wanted to help us understand that after writing, the real work starts. Editing your content is just as important as writing it. Through a series of classic examples and anecdotes from his own experience, he gave practical advice on analysing and improving your own writing, through careful, considered editing. In common with Martin, Cennydd also was keen to make the most important point of all: if you can’t speel, please don’t write, especially if your grammar do suck.

It was thoroughly enjoyable evening, with practical, actionable advice. Clearly, there is no one ‘right way’ to become a better writer, but if you can learn from others’ experiences, you can, at least, take steps in a better direction.

[This post is an edit of the previous post ‘This title is clever but pointless and inefficient’. It is an attempt to put some of the learning from the writing workshop into practice and so it’s not a great post, more of an exercise. If you prefer one or the other, leave a comment. You might not like either of them, which is more likely]

This title is clever but pointless and inefficient

This is the post I would normally write about being at an event in the city with a collection of like-minded individuals who were compelled to attend to on the promise of solace at their smiting of writing with encouraging words from the scribers of note that can say what they wrote with articulate summary, a sprinkling of chummery and, not least some encouragement, wrapped up in wit, delivered in earnest, with meaning, to whit, I give you a paragraph to be used as example, to print and to squint at in lieu of a sample of how you could simply just dribble away like a gibbering goon for the rest of the day.

Except, I now know better.

This evening I attended a workshop run by Martin Belam and Cennydd Bowles, which, ostensibly, was about being a better writer. That sounds like a rather lofty and grandiose concept, but, you know, I like those. Realistically, the workshop was more about personal approaches to writing, learned writing skills, need-to-know and evil-to-use devices for being read, and a heavy dose of editing. Oh, and spelling. And grammar. Which, I plainly flout irreverently and irreconcilably and even irresponsibly. In fact, there were so many golden nuggets of ‘better writing’ advice that I didn’t even have time to flippantly flap about it on the twitter.

Not really knowing what to expect from the evening, I did approach it with an open mind, and an open bottle of Corona. I was hoping that I might get some opinions other than my own on what might constitute good writing and take those opinions away to inform my future output. I did get that, but I also got a rather delightful insight into the methods and practices of two writers that I rather admire. If were to make some dubious football analogy at this point, which I am going to, I’d suggest that Martin’s approach was that of a wily, crafty, tactical midfield genius, who has a great eye for an opportunity, knows all the tricks and can pick out the killer pass most of the time. He’s always the first man to be picked, notwithstanding his occasional tendency to argue the toss with the gaffer over formations. On the other hand, Cennydd would be more of a silky, clinical, methodical kind of player. While apparently effortless in his command of the ball and organising the team (for he does wear the armband), he will be the one on the training ground under the floodlights at 2a.m., repeatedly kicking a ball at a wall until he can predictably hit the same brick every time.

All of which is just a way to say that when describing how to be a better writer, you necessarily end up describing what you’ve done to try and be a better writer yourself, and this will be different depending on who you are. Martin and Cennydd described quite different experiences and approaches, but they shared a common aim. Clearly, there is no right way to become a better writer, there are many right ways. However, what this evening demonstrated is that if you want to focus on a few of the many, some of those right ways are more righterer than others.

Tomorrow, as an exercise, I shall mostly editing the life out of this post before publishing it again. It will be like harvesting antimatter with a sock.

javaone one. I mean the first one. you know what I mean.

1996. It was the beginning of a short period when I was a really quite bad java programmer. still, I got the JavaOne backpack and realized that its possible to have a garden on top of a bunker in the center of town. well, I say the center, but it’s not really, but that means I could park in that garage down the road next to the freeway where I discovered that the rental car had lights that come on by themselves. which is nice, but couldn’t turn them off.

I’ve still got the backpack, but I can no longer overload an operator, unless it’s the statusline for BT broadband. I recall that nobody really knew what the hell was going on at the event and just kind of wondered around clutching handouts and pieces of cheese and trying to work out which was the most popular breakout session. which was probably beans. or servlets. in fact, they were probably the only breakout sessions. oh, and Scott held up the 7 inch future of computing and we all rocked.

it was great. I ate Casey Jones for 2 weeks straight, ages before that bloke on the telly.

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