Things what I writ

I sometimes write nonsense about things to try and sound clever

on pathways

sometimes I get all wistful about forest paths and the unloved tracks of forgotten intent. often that’s because I’m wondering where my dog is. equally often it’s because I wonder where my god is. which is to mean that I can’t begin to describe the realisation of paths less travelled whether I consider them in terms of dog or god. there’s no difference. all there is is the relic of some lost spark of curiosity manifest in the loose dirt and leaves of time.

for clarity, I don’t believe in a god. sometimes I don’t believe in my dog. but I do believe that these manifestations of chaotic traversals that scar this earth have more to do with synchronicity than we might imagine. those pathways in the forest are both the magic and the mundane. the structured and the intangible. the mirror and the well. the loved. the unloved. but above all, inextricable and beautiful. for every half-trodden pathway, there exists a sense of the terrible and wonderful history of the moments that make that path place. place where you, I, my dog, and an epoch of experiences come together in the half-light and a half-glance as we pass through time and wonder; what if?

whereupon someone’s jack russell jumps at the leg of time itself and the moment is lost in an apology and a god biscuit. but, just before that, as time stands still at the branch of life, where instinct begets choice and all history collides, we’re faced with the overwhelming sense that not taking that path might be to deny ourselves reward. reward for curiosity. reward for courage. reward for conviction. if we don’t take that path now, we’re just another part of someone’s else’s tomorrow. the tomorrow where they, their dog, and an epoch of experiences come together in the half-light and a half-glance as they pass through time and wonder; what if?

but the truth about these paths is that you can’t find these paths if you look for these paths. for they exist only in the blind spots of consciousness. you can only see them if you look away. and then only if you’re in the right place. at the right time. and only if the path is looking for you. and there’s a raven on an oak tree reciting the autobiography of edgar allen poe. or something. the point is, as we move through time and space on the bark and boards of our earthly existence, our sense of place is as much to do with the predictability of the path as it with the beauty of the unknown. and seizing the unknown may be our only chance to be lost to the forest forever.

there’s no parallel with findability or discoverability here, much as I’d like to bring it to a conclusion that has something vaguely to do with signposting and waymarking and user experience, it’s just something that’s occurred to me and I wrote some words about. maybe I could draw a parallel to information architecture or something. maybe not.

listening post: genesis – supper’s ready

the terrible and horrible realisation that you don’t know what somebody is talking about when you think that you probably should

it’s alright. you probably don’t need to know.

but it’s true, if that person is saying it, then omg omg omg you probably really should know it so you can at least acknowledge it and talk about it and update your slides to reference it and then explain how you’ve always been doing it but actually when you were doing it before people had a name for it it was just something you did as part of what everybody now calls holistic interaction experiential lean mapping or something omg omg omg I don’t even believe anything I say any more I’m a terrible imposter and I’m going to be found out why do I bother clearly I should just go back to compulsively rearranging the bookshelf in my bedroom I hate myself and want to die in a professionally self destructive kind of way.

but it’s alright. you probably don’t need to know.

but it’s true, if everybody you follow on twitter is making reference to it, then omg it’s even worse and now they’re all actually making it more obscure by making oblique references to some historical precedence which is clearly the foundation for the thing this person is talking about but omg omg since this is like THE CORE PRINCIPLE AND I DON’T EVEN KNOW THAT THEN WHAT HOPE IS THERE FOR ME and this person over here is already saying that the thing is already not a thing anymore and I was going to say something funny about the thing sounding a bit like a fruit or something but now I might as well just not say anything because I have no idea what I’m doing in this industry and everybody knows it and dammit it does sound like a fruit why can’t I just say that omg hang on the person who said it in the first place has now said what they meant was something a bit different to what everybody is saying and they’re all wrong and there’s a bit of an argument going on I wish I could say the fruit thing why don’t I know what’s going on.

but it’s alright. you probably don’t need to know.

but it’s true, if you’re sat in the half-darkness of a meetup in the basement of the faculty of brain hurt sciences or the half-brightness of a design agency eyebrow in a soho loft listening to that person you’ve always wanted to listen to and then they casually throw out reference to the thing and everybody in the room laughs and you don’t know why so you laugh along but you’re thinking to yourself omg I only just managed to get to grips with ironic self-referential unicorn bon-mots what is this that I’m now supposed to knowingly acknowledge without actually anybody actually ever telling me to my satisfaction WHAT IT ACTUALLY IS AND INCIDENTALLY I’M BEGINNING TO GET AM I THE ONLY PERSON WHO DOESN’T ACTUALLY KNOW RAGE ACTUALLY then, surely, I’m not the only person who doesn’t get it.

it’s alright. you’re not. imposter syndrome hits everyone. it’s always been there. except now it’s accelerated and amplified by the immediacy of the broadcast and disseminate model of social sharing. the discoverability of knowing what you apparently don’t know is optimised to a point that it almost happens in negative time. it’s over before it emerges. you’re already too late. you missed the fruit joke.

but it’s alright. I’m so far behind I’m actually way ahead. at least, that’s how I deal with it.

listening post: bring me the horizon – shadow moses

Your design resume is awesome but I don’t care

I’ve spoken a lot in the last few days about what user experience is. My best descriptions don’t include those words any more. I’m finding that I can only express the qualities I look for when I’m hiring UX professionals in terms of life experiences. Meaning that I tend to prioritise specific academic qualification or checklists of skills much lower than I prioritise the things that make you the person that you are. And I have to acknowledge that that makes it almost impossible for potential candidates to formally structure an approach that I might respond positively to. My assessment of what makes an engaging resume or portfolio does seem to be at odds to the majority of hiring managers in the field or, more specifically, recruiters. I’m grateful to my UXPA mentees for pointing that out, since otherwise I may just consider that everyone is writing terrible resumes which is why they’re finding it difficult to penetrate into the first level of human interaction with me – an interview.

I’ll be honest. A lot of resumes I see are terrible. But worse than that, a lot of them are just not very compelling. I don’t find anything in them that makes me want to invest the effort I really should. There’s nothing in there that makes me interested in who that person is. I try, and fail, to respond positively to a checklist of application software, when, frankly, it’s meaningless to me. I have an expectation that anyone who is applying for a design role can manage application software. If you can’t, I’ll teach you how. That’s not the thing that makes you a designer. What makes you a designer is your ability to think, articulate, challenge, interrogate, evolve, be bold, be different, be confident, be accountable and have the courage of your conviction. I really need to see something of that in your approach to me, since that’s really what differentiates you. It might just be how you word a personal statement or whatever you call it. It might be in the narrative that forms the basis of your portfolio. It might be that you’ve got an interest in garden furniture. Really, I can’t tell you what it looks like, but I have to respond to you at a level more significant than simply a well-structured document. I have to work with you. I have to like you. So give me a sense of what that might be like, rather than letting me know how good you are at using Axure.

In the end, I can only offer a personal opinion. I’m the least professional professional I know. But since I’m hiring designers, it might be useful, or at least interesting. I’m willing to accept it might actually just be more confusing. But if you were considering working with me, at least you now know something about the things that make me the person that I am.

listening post: ryan adams – so alive

excerpt

whereupon the twentieth century withered to its unceremonious and overinflated end and so began the shift from simply doing to understanding for as the question of needs and behaviours was seen to encompass a new empathetic aesthetic in reality we were simply questioning why the plans were neither best laid or with foundation since we couldn’t adequately express those plans in terms of the context by which end users were to be expected to interact engage and consume far less for us to imagine that we might somehow manage a longer term expectation through a better understanding of the psychology of human behaviours specifically related to the interface of interactions between ourselves and the pixels and patterns on the viewing planes of the computer display in this regard we were learning to manage the subtle increments to our references for human computer interactions and how we applied those increments to our clumsy manifestations of engineering design those crude responses to the predominantly functional definition of a problem boundary sufficed for our early renditions of solutions as experiences but fell some way short of a necessary incorporation of a significantly broader set of methods and practices borrowed and repurposed for a new set of inputs for a new set of outputs in that crossover from a popularisation of web design based on an abstract representation of basic human and computer interaction points to a deeper understanding of the cognitive primitives that in turn become the patterns of behaviour that model an interaction was nothing short of revelatory in a few short years at the very end of a century the principals of design shifted from physical to experiential in a way that few might have been in a position to really articulate moreover it was more closely aligned to the visions of the near future we were living expressed fifty years previously by the likes of clarke and asimov in their explorations of a developing sentience and self awareness in the objects and interfaces that we humans create to satisfy the craving to objectify ourselves perhaps at the beginning of the new century designing for a new set of experiences was a reaction to a search for a new set of meanings as a new millennium forced us to collectively appraise our progress against that imagined future and seek new way to express meaning through the design of the world around us based on a closer focus on our own position within it what this was really bound by was the extent to which our ability to reinvent ourselves was limited by our need to attach meaning to our roles by association with and extension of a discrete collection of principles seemingly snatched from the grip of a decaying academia half buried by the weight of its own expectation

listening post: genesis – the musical box

That’s how I knew this hypothesis would break my flow

it is a comfortable complacency that makes a problem easy to solve. even worse when you’ve developed that complacency over a considerable number of years which by the virtue of time passed assumes some authority by experience. it’s not even authority that’s the problem. I can do authority. authority is really just gravity. it’s the sense that one is somehow innately qualified to pontificate and elaborate because they might use very long sentences without much punctuation which means its really quite difficult to know whether its puerile conjecture or learned missive.

I’m experienced. I’ve been around for ages. I know what a problem looks like and I know what a solution looks like. very often it’s very easy to use the very solution that probably solved a very similar problem when I came across it, ooh, a coupe of years ago or something. and generally that’s alright. it’s an adequate response to a challenge that while intellectually does not stretch the rubber of the mind can serve to define success within a constraint borne of utter fucking laziness.

and the commoditisation of the mind is a curious and debilitating thing. off-the-cortex solutions are a shortcut to banality. ready-to-think is the antithesis of brain couture. the synaptic pathways trodden through the infinite green pastures of the mind are the ruts in which our freedom of thought gets stuck, guiding it irrevocably to the cliff edge of reason where, like pathetic idea bison, it simply throws itself off the edge, crashing into the dry river bed of missed opportunity.

I mean, just because something worked before, it doesn’t mean it’ll simply work again. have a proper think.

the glorious IA summit

it feels like it’s been a lifetime since I returned from Baltimore after the glorious IA summit at the beginning of April. it’s the event that leaves you feeling like that when its over, like the end of a long hot summer where you gambolled through the shimmering and abundant fields of learning, dancing like a teenager with your new best friends dipping your toes in the stream of enlightenment and talking like you don’t know the words for the things you have to say, watching the proud and beautiful stags of truth barking atop the mountain as if to say THERE IS NO TRUTH, JUST THE ONTOLOGY OF TRUTHS, COME HEAR ME, FOR I AM THE STAG OF BEAUTY AND I SPEAK OF THE CHANGE YOU WANT TO MAKE AND BY THE WAY SINCE I’M A PHYSICAL MANIFESTATION OF ALL YOUR ENDEAVOURS I REALLY AM THE MISSING LINK BETWEEN THE COGNITIVE AND SPATIAL DEFINITION OF CONTEXT THAT DEFINES IT ALL. HURRAH!

or something like that. to be clear, there is a reason I allocate 100% of my available budget to attend this one event each year. it’s because I get a year’s worth of worth from it. I mean, I go to quite a few smaller events throughout the year and meet splendid and lovely people and see inspiring and challenging speakers and learn so much about things that are totally relevant to me. but the IA summit is quite different. without wishing to get weirdly evangelical and creepy about it (and not the dan willis kind of creepy), I believe it’s an event that changes lives. overstating it? maybe. but I know that attending for the last few years has changed me for the better. and I’ve spoken to many people who have attended, often for the first time, who are so touched and moved and surprised and enlivened by their attendance that they can’t quite express what it is that it’s done to them. I’m not about to qualify what ‘better’ means, because that’s not the point. I don’t do definitions. but what better means to me is what counts. the change for the better is what I recognise in myself and how I attribute that change to my attendance at the IA summit is up to me. nobody can alter that.

in the grand scheme of things, with so much going in the world, and so many demands and so little time and so much to do and so much to say and so many responsibilities and so on and so on it is perhaps easy to say fuck’s sake it’s only a conference for people who get weirdly obsessed about the structure of things and why are you getting so worked up about it there’s more important things to worry about but whatever. let me bark this at you. THIS EVENT IS AN OASIS OF AWESOME. IT CHANGES LIVES. I AM THE STAG OF TRUTH SO HEAR ME ROAR.

thank you to the beautiful people, old and new, that make the change happen. I love you. if anyone would like to tell me to calm down, don’t bother.

Yes I do that too

A continuing and repeated conversation at the IA summit in Baltimore this week is about knowing how to say what you think you can say about the things you’d like to say.

That can be having a bazillion drafts of blog posts that you think nobody is ever going to want to read, or wondering whether anyone in their right mind would sit through 45 minutes of you telling them how you actually have no idea what you’re talking about but that’s alright because you’re not about to change the world with your reimagineeration of practice fundamentals you just did a thing recently that included some of the stuff that everybody here also seems to be doing but you weren’t sure whether you were doing the right IA thing and actually you weren’t even sure it was IA at all but, like, it was just a good story about how I did a thing which you think is a bit like how other people do a thing and perhaps is would be interesting to other people to see how I did it you know like let’s understand how we actually do what we do with the things we know and see if we might learn something or validate an approach or find a different way to do it rather that necessarily trying to understand how calling something a fish means I’ve subconsciously induced a cognitive brain spasm which can be expressed as an inducement to a systemic failure in brain pattern structure mapping that is an unavoidable and not entirely unexpected relation of disentropy that exposes your failing as a labelling person to understand the role of that artefact in the ontology of the universe of stuffz.

We want to hear and read and see and discuss that stuff. We just want you to tell a story about what you’ve been doing. It’s pretty simple. I mean, we like the big crazy things, but there’s nothing like a good story, well told, about a personal experience, that helps us say YES I DO THAT TOO.

The trouble with context

At the Information Architecture Summit in Baltimore, I’ve just had the pleasure of a full day with Karen McGrane, considering content strategies for mobile which of course isn’t content strategies for mobile at all but content strategies for content which might somehow be consumed by 76% of us using some kind of hand-held device or other as the primary device that we use to consume that stuff because that’s our preference notwithstanding the fact that indeed for some 40% or other of the 76% or other that preference is actually the only option because using a smartphone to access the internet is the only way to do it and don’t forget that an ever-growing percentage or other of the new natives in the 18-24 age range just actually don’t see why you’d want to access the internet on anything other than your smartphone because, like, using a proper computer is what your dad does in the corner of the home office and I should know because that dad is me.

Which is to say, don’t get led astray by implied contexts of physical devices when considering the user needs and behaviours in relation to the structure and organisation of the content they may consume. There is no specific mobile use case that defines a content strategy when considering your options for creating a compelling user experience. There is only content. And the structure of that content. And the user experience of interacting with that content is what defines the context of use. It is a misappropriation of the term to hypothesise scenarios based on context, since context can only ever be undefined up to the point at which the manifestation of the moment of interaction occurs.

We can, of course, be pragmatic and facilitate a conversation about context by making some assumptions about likely renditions of scenes where actors follow a script to bring to life some awkwardly cinematic versions of potentially reasonably representative portrayals of the personification of a user need. These are the ‘what if’ propositions that at least enable us to align our thought gazelles behind a weirdly myopic vision of a real life event. It enables us to say ‘that might happen. what might we consider based on the knowledge acquired from that?’ And actually, we can write pretty good scripts. And we can develop pretty good personas.

But we’re just making it up. And we bring to that imagination every subtle or not so subtle nuance of our own limited experiences and assumptions to the point where we can imagine a whole sundance festival of what ifs but if the only person in the audience for the special screening of ‘a series of what ifs in the style of a seemingly disconnected robert altman style parable that ultimately defines the human experiences but coincidentally demonstrates the likely context of use for you the user’ just sits there slowly shaking their head muttering something like ‘they don’t understand. they don’t understand’ then we’re wasting our time.

Have phone, will travel

This is a blog on a plane. It is the story of a number of systems I’m using to make the overall travel experience simpler, more efficient, and less painful. It will include this plane. It will include a few trains. It might also include a taxi or two. And hotels. And maybe some government systems that will allow me to enter the country without all those questions they felt necessary to ask me back in 1984 because I had a bit of a beard and looked like I maybe hadn’t slept much.

It will definitely include online booking systems.

All of today’s journey was researched online. Of course it was. How else do you do it these days? Nearly all of it was booked online, apart from the taxi. The taxi company we use for work does have some kind of online booking system I think, but it works rather better to phone the night before and tell them in person, because I’m not entirely convinced the online system is anything more than a copy of wordstar sending faxes to a pigeon.

And everything has been tracked online. Confirmation of booking, booking reference, whether the train is on time, what platform it will be on, checking into my fight, getting my boarding pass, checking the plane will be on time, what departure gate it will be at, right up to me sitting here in 27k somewhere over a cloud the size of Greenland, having taken a photo of my feet and a highlife magazine and bored 1044 to death with it on twitter.

When I say online, of course, I mean, on my phone. Everything I’ve mentioned here has been done using my phone. That’s to say the train company, the airline, the hotel chain (not the taxi company) make it possible for me to arrange and book and track an entire travel itinerary just using my phone. I mean, I could have used a desktop computer or a laptop, but, you know, that’s not the first thing we do these days. I fill the gaps between whatever I do either side of gaps by fiddling with my phone. It might as well be productive fiddling. Those companies might as well make it easy to use their service over someone else’s, because, increasingly, if I can’t do it on my phone, I won’t do it at all.

There are of course, some drawbacks to a wholly phone-based travel experience. When I want to print out the hotel details to leave at home, I’m a bit stuck. It’s almost an affront to have to turn on the poor neglected desktop just to connect to a printer. But really, that’s about it. For me, this is an entirely paperless trip. So paperless, in fact, that I forgot to take the most important piece of paper of all. My passport.

Ok, so I didn’t really forget it, BUT I NEARLY DID. That’s a good enough anecdote for me to describe the modern travel experience and how it’s changed our expectations of what is possible. The ubiquity of mobile and its effect on some of our largest ecosystems continues to change the way we manage our lives, mostly, I think, for the better.

I should probably point out the some of the apps and mobile sites I had to use to make this happen were fucking awful, but that might take the edge off my nicely upbeat story, so I won’t.

Design worth doing

I’m in a hotel room with half a bottle of zinfandel and a packet of mini eggs and I’m considering what design means to me which is surely a place that should be populated with mental road signs that only say STOP but curiously say GO like some alternate roadwork universe wherein the boards are all in my favour but I don’t believe them so I immediately inadvertently drive into a ditch which coincidentally was signposted WAKE UP.

Which is by way of unconnected allegory some reference to a dichotomous puzzlement that’s poked my cheek with wet finger pulling a face that says ‘what is design worth if it’s not design worth doing?’ which is some curious garlandian manifestation that has brushed my conscience and ultimately led me to question the thing that I do. Or, at least, the way that I do it. Or maybe it’s why. I’m not entirely sure.

I like designing. I’m quite good at it. I’m lucky enough to do it as the job I get paid for that supports me and my family and my dog and my craving for mini eggs. I don’t change the world with it, but I think, and I create, and I make, and I use unnecessary commas, and everything is quite good with the world. But it’s not a world I’m changing through design. I don’t subscribe to a manifesto that I may have written, consumed, co-opted or saved in google reader, that states that the reason I design the things I design is somehow for the betterment of design as a whole and some better world for the future. I design because I’m a designer. I’m fine with that.

That’s not to say there might be a better way for me to design. That might even mean there’s a better me by design. There are plenty of ways that I, my team, my company, my profession can be better, braver, different in the way design gets realised. And I think that’s something I can try and do something about. I’ve been inspired with that wet-fingered conscience-brushing episode to consider that better way. I’m acknowledging that my hypothesis hasn’t necessarily tested well and I can learn from that and iterate and test. I’m allowing myself to fail in pursuit of a better design me. And I believe that probably is a thing worth doing by design.

But there are others out there for whom that isn’t enough. There is more to design than simply design itself and that more is what can really change the world. That truly is design worth doing and it requires the breath of dreams to power the wings of angels and you know those angels exist but they look just like you and me or maybe in my case about 20 years younger and they actually don’t have a funny noise coming from the exhaust of their Vauxhall Zafira but you know I digress the point is THOSE ANGELS NEED TO FLY.

Design worth doing is a reflection of the change you want to make. Do what it takes to make the change happen. Maybe start with designing a bigger bag of mini eggs or something. OH YOU KNOW WHAT I’M SAYING.

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