Things what I writ

I sometimes write nonsense about things to try and sound clever


joking aside

I rather like using real-world, but made up, examples in prototypes, wireframes, mockups and other user experience bit and pieces. I think it provides a reviewer with a content familiarity that means they are not distracted by confusing ‘Sample 1, Sample 2, Lorem Ipsum 7’ style placeholders. I mean, are those labels important, or is a reviewer expected to try and read a bit of Latin to get some context around the content blocks I’ve scattered around? Much easier to use a few scannable labels and text areas to allow a reviewer to filter and forget, rather than expect them to somehow instinctively understand that the drop-down list of ‘Attribute 1’ to ‘Attribute x’ that you’ve presented them with is just to suggest an interaction style and that the data isn’t important. Just ignore the data. No, it isn’t actually going to say ‘Attibute 1’, that’s a placeholder. Well, it will probably be ‘Edit’, or ‘View’ or something. Look, we’re getting away from the purpose of this review. etc.

However, there is another reason to use real-world, but made up examples, which is not directly out of the usability engineering manual. Its where you put the jokes. That’s not to say the placeholder text for the latest portal home page prototype for your financial services client should start with ‘There was an Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman…’, but there is a little bit of me that wants to leave the occasional blipjoke lying around for anyone determined enough to look at the 3pt type in the sub menu of the fly-out on page 17. Its a bit like that bloke in Blade Runner leaving a little origami joke in a abandoned lift shaft. It doesn’t matter if you miss it, but there’s a nice little subtext to be discovered if you want to.

It goes back to my final year usability engineering presentation at university which included that Framemaker clip art of people with no faces, and all I could think of doing to lift the tedium of my Jakob Nielsen thesis was to add a speech bubble which said ‘I’ve got no face’. At that point in the presentation proper, I left it unreferenced, projected on the wall, as I wittered on about interaction models for process management application interfaces on UNIX, and I saw the sideways glances to each other of my tutors and the slight curl of their ‘snapped to geometry’ mouths and I knew they’d discovered it. They sat so far forward in their chairs from that point on that I could see the labels in the necks of their C&A shirts. I knew I’d got a first.

Actually, I cocked up my computing maths module, so I only got a 2:1, but hey, who asks about your degree once you’ve finished it? Anyway, back to the jokes, for this morning I came across a rather nice one, which prompted me to blurt all this nonsense. If you take a look at the Thunderbird 3 Features page, there’s a little example image of what those evil phishermen get up to and how Thunderbird protects you from it. What I rather like about the example is who its protecting you from. Correct me if I’m wrong, but someone had a little smirk putting that example together.

listening post: foals – spanish sahara

it’s just the same over here you know

Boulder. Norwich. they’re just like the illegitimate children of upper-middle class families separated at birth and rehoused on different sides of the atlantic. I mean, the nucleus of these places is like the result of an illicit conflagration between two drugged-up psychology students from the university on the edge of town, but peel off a few layers and progress a couple of miles into the suburbs and further out to the wilderness, then things get much more like the unfortunate in-bred collision of two disenfranchised and disaffected 15 year olds on crack who stumbled out of elementary with a working knowledge of woodworking and a lovebite on the neck. this is where people start building their own houses out of pieces of wood they salvaged from the local authority rather than getting the thursday edition of the local post and leafing through the property pages thinking about the next progression up the stakeholder lifestyle ladder and how much the difference between what they currently own and what they really need to work from home and walk to school and have an acre and have that one extra room that would make all the difference would be.

and there’s a great big community of hippies that won’t go away. they came to the university in 1975 to study geology and life sciences before there was such a thing as life sciences and they just never went back home. they just moved into the golden triangle with their afghans and tabalas and hung tie-dye on the wall and CND in the window and opened up the alternative pulse shops that Tesco and Walmart are now buying up and turning into drugstore expresses to cater for the burgeoning population of 2005 hippies that come to study, well, geology and life sciences, but have already got cars and mortgages and actually, are soo busy they can’t begin to think about the G8 summit or even cooking their own dinners so they congregate at the microbrewery and pretend to like football and try to shag each other, but in a polite way, cleaning up after themselves.

but always creeping in from the outskirts are the indigenous population of the unintelligable underclass that really own the city. they have been here for generations, often never leaving their own self-made house in the country. mostly they’ve not had any social intercourse outside their own extended family. mostly they’ve had no intercourse at all outside their own extended family. they suddenly appear over your shoulder when you’ve been busy checking out kites in the window of ‘kites and things’, their dribbly grin poking out of their bleached fringe, which is poking out of a baseball hat that you’re wondering just how it could get so unclean. they don’t want anything. they just do that looking at you thing and then gather together again like some idiot mercury in the middle of the high street and laugh. you’re not sure whether it’s at you or just in general, but you check your purse and head into a book shop all the same, because you’re safe in there, if a little grubby after the experience.

I’m only joking of course. I was born here and I’m quite normal.