Things what I writ

I sometimes write nonsense about things to try and sound clever


changing titles

if I’m honest it’s because I can’t be arsed with the pause and reconsideration that accompanies every utterance of a title that’s prescriptive and divisive notwithstanding the gravitas and apparent stakeholder appeasmentism that the very combination of words appear to solicit albeit with the delivery of a stifled yawn from the wrong side of a curtain twitching like the very drawing of morning across the pale insipid sky of delusion that speaks of much grandeur and most excellent credentials while all the time saying not so much as a pithy whine unto the duck void of experience whereupon the weight of expectation times the burden of truth equals the reality of a glass never actually filled at all.

it doesn’t matter. it never really has. at least not to me. but oh how the machine readers of the mind have been wired to construct the meaning and motive from the syntax and the semantics of the short sweet evolution of the industry we call home. all operators are overloaded. all exceptions have been thrown. all we have that has been taken from us is in the irony that the definition of self now belongs so very much to others.

I am a user experience designer and I done a wireframe.

listening post: pink floyd – sheep

send your children to conferences

here is a revelation for anyone who has never been to a conference that’s relevant to their profession: it’s a great way to validate that you actually know what you’re talking about. I mean, honestly, we mostly operate within the duck quack void of self-appreciation and we’re only really interrogated and challenged when we’re required to present, with authority, our opinion on what our interpretation of ‘good’ is in the narrow context of our own practice. but spending a day or two listening to people just like you, presenting their own ideas, propositions and theories, is a day or two where you quickly come to the realisation that you’re not, in fact, the imposter you thought you might be. you’re actually reasonably good. fuck it. you’re very good.

a colleague of mine is out in san francisco this week, at a conference where there are some very clever, very smart people talking about design practice. I say they’re very clever and very smart, but really, I’ve no idea. at least I’ve heard of them. they’ve mostly written a book about something or other that’s relevant. but, you know, I’ve never worked with them, so I can’t personally say whether they’re any good at what they do. but they tell a good story. and that’s what we’ve got to go on. and this colleague reflected on her first day at the conference with a telling phrase: I am getting the feeling we actually are doing stuff so right! and she means that as a company and as the individuals that make that company what it is. and I’m not surprised. because that’s the feeling I get when I attend similar events.

when you find yourself in a safe environment, and there’s not much safer than conferences, especially those with a significant proportion of first-time speakers, then that’s when you give yourself permission to evaluate your own position. my first speaking engagement was at the IA summit. I’d never done any public speaking before, least of all about my own practice. but that environment was as perfect a place as any to evaluate, compare, contrast and make your own conclusions about how you’re placed on the weird global/parochial peer spectrum. and really, it’s not a question of relativity. it’s much more about reassurance and a sense of acknowledgement.

which is all a rather roundabout way of saying that there is much to be gained from attending a conference of like-minded individuals to understand your own position within that community. I advocate conference attendance as a learning experience. bluntly put, I recommend conference attendance as the place where training budget is invested, because I believe that proactive conference attendance adds value as a career development opportunity by a factor of at least ten over traditional training or courseware. it’s definitely where I spend all my training budget. and if that runs out, especially where the IA summit is concerned, I’ll pay for it myself. it’s a no-brainer.

listening post: xtc – towers of london


on the discovery and deliberation of patterns it is a better thing we do to deny our learning and reference the landscape that we surface for whereupon some fresh faces are removed from their host and commune upon the meaning and principle of the very elements that evoke the things which we’re bound to call engagement emotion experience and delight then our challenge must be to question the very semantics of our endeavour for when we distribute this cognitive load and balance expectations most notably on the axis of strategic and attainable then there will be a mountain of prejudice and presumption that once manifest and articulated may only result in an irresistible deference to an equilibrium that defines the problem for as much as we coalesce around the principles and we refine refine reiterate and replay we ultimately provide our own context and that is where we imagine those patterns as extensions of the understanding we currently have rather than an understanding of what can be we may at times realise such distances from our everyday that we are able to explore without constraint and within that we can begin to discover those patterns that behaviourally would seem to get us closer to some kind of new resolution then within those arbitrary boundaries we’re going to realise our own conditions and parameters and they will determine the measure of success against which our interactions and behaviours can be evaluated making the estimation in those terms enables those participants and practitioners to filter around a common axis with a predictable set of data without this earthing there can be no parity and without this parity we’re divergent at best and tangental at least if we can begin to recognise what common language enables us to articulate then the patterns begin to emerge

listening post: mallory knox – lighthouse

on specificity

when we were trying to find a suit for my dad when my sister got married, there wasn’t much of a plan. I mean, there wasn’t a particular style or look we were going for. we didn’t really have a great understanding of what might be the right thing, other than it should probably be a bit, like, summery. but beyond that, we were at a bit of a loss. so we thought we should consult the expert in these matters. a tailor.

having explained to the best of our ability exactly how we thought my dad’s suit should manifest, having stumbled over at least half an oxford english dictionary and a couple of rogets, we alighted on a deafening silence, accompanied by an awkward gawping stare, waiting, almost reverently, for said tailor to deliver a verdict. and when he spake it felt as like it were the very voice of heaven cascading over our heavy shoulders. and he did spake unto us thus: “you need something a little…” yes? “…a little…” go on? “well…”


“let me show you”

actually, it was the perfect description of what was required. I can’t really describe to you how the suit looked, but I think you can get an idea from that single word. but it isn’t the word that made the difference. it was the acknowledgement that specificity in of itself wasn’t the thing that was providing any clarity. it was using the right language based on the context that made the difference. and he just made that word up. but it was exactly the right word at the right time, based on the information he had.

I am the least academic person I know. I’m a terrible intellectual and appallingly unintelligent. do I know tufte? no I don’t know tufte. have I been getting away with it as a user experience designer for ten years? maybe. but you can’t personally say that unless you’ve worked with me and I’ve disabled comments for anybody who has worked with me.

I’ve done good things though. I have apparently made clients happy. I haven’t changed the world. I haven’t set out to. but to the best of my abilities I design for the user based on the evidence I have. much like the tailor. I really don’t know whether I’m using a taxonomy, an information architecture, a flow diagram, a blueprint, a journey map, a haynes manual, a cognitive disentropy matrix or whatever. I could really not care what those things are and the limits or constraints of what they’re supposed to communicate.

but I’m good at finding the word. and if I can sit in a room, with a pen and something to use it on, then I can probably show you what I mean. and that’s about as specific as it gets.

listening post: gemma hayes – shock to my system

Watching the prospectives at London IA

I was lucky enough to talk at the May London IA event a few days ago. Even better than that, I got to share the stage, well, I say stage, I shared the bit of floor at the front of the loft, with the most charming man in the world, Giles Colborne, and the most charming woman in the world, Johanna Kollmann. Unfortunately for them, they had to share the small walk around in front of the projector area with the most charmless dancing dad Soho misfit in the world, me. I’m prone to a bit of self-depreciation, but really, it was as much as I could do to breathe in for 30 minutes while I was up there before collapsing into a Stella at The Endurance and a subsequent face full of Ginsters on the steps of Centre Point like a lost corporate team-builder from the M4 corridor.

We’d gathered for a redux of the IA Summit, which took place in New Orleans earlier in the year. Johanna and I had presented at the summit at the same time – 8:30 on Sunday morning – and hadn’t seen each other speak, so it was great for us, and Giles had very kindly offered/volunteered/I dunno, been threatened with something to do a recap of a few of the highlights from the conference. It was going to be a good night even if nobody else turned up.

But turn up they did, and based on a quick show of the hands that people showed when asked, it seems that the vast majority of the attendees had never been to a London IA event before, which was very inspiring. Either that or they just didn’t like Martin waving his iPad at them saying “who’s been to one these before? Hmm? Matthew and I organize these you know! THEY’RE FREE!’ Either way, a lot of new faces is, to me, a very encouraging thing. Let’s be honest, you can go to events in London that are the physical manifestation of the echo chamber and although the people are extraordinarily nice and I would like many of them to be real friends that know what the sound of my voice is like, these events are excellent places to learn things you don’t know and see people you may have read say things out loud. Far be it from me to sound like some kind of curious Werthers Original style UX granddad shedding a small tear into my slippers when the young uns look up at the stage that isn’t a stage with those beady eyes of youth, pondering your gibberish like some unbounded grasshoppers, but it’s encouraging to see them sat in that loft, just BEING KEEN. *sniff*

So thank you to Martin and Matthew for organising and inviting me along, and thank you to Giles and Johanna for being charming and fascinating, and thank you to everybody who turned up and was polite and keen and asked lovely questions, and thank you to the weather for hailing on my legs as I cowered under a newsagent awning just before arriving, and thank you for listening, etc.

Slides from the IA Summit (On Slideshare):
Making sense of messy problems: Systems thinking for multi-channel UX by Johanna Kollmann
Designing the Mobile Wallet: A Case Study by Tim Caynes

Ride the lightning

Notwithstanding a pithy reference to a metal experience that reminds me of the second half of the vinyl rack at the record shop where I used to work, tonight I rode the lightning at the event that uses the name but in no way conjures up images of axes and diminished 3rds because it’s got UX at the end and so rather suggests there might be crumpers and iphones and projectors and bottles of water and stuff which there was, for tonight was lightning UX and I spake of random percentages, gears of fear and communicating only through michael jackson thriller dance moves. There may have also been occasional references to mobile wallet design challenges amongst which and of I mused upon that included cognition of conceptual architectures, complicated contexts of use, and user confidences in and around the whole bloody wallet thing what they don’t even get ffs. Grrr.

I was, however, merely one of the peas in a UX pentapod that had been popped forth to live and breathe the warm air of a university basement and deliver a missive so sweet that it must just be our very last thing we do in a 10 minute burst looked upon by the sparkling eyes of the eversokeen. Within the delicate constraints of the framework – like rolling down the grassy hill of a summer’s day, passing the baton of freshly plucked UX grass between us like it might be the day all summery rolling down hill baton-passing days might be like – the five of us took that which was close to our hearts and set it into the ether upon the wings of hope where, in my case, it kind of crashed about a bit in a series of profane outbursts vaguely resembling a topic whereupon it flew too close to the flame of relevance and singed it’s little wings a bit.

In other words, I talked some stuff about designing mobile wallets and I made a lot of numbers up and the four others speakers on the bill were very good and actually when we opened it up to questions that got quite interesting and if anybody wants to ask me about the perception of flawed security models in the deployment of mobile payment frameworks or how you draw a thing which says PAY NOW then I’m more than happy to follow up with you. Point your stick toward @timcaynes. Come see me at the IA summit. I am UX.

I don’t need your design process

Sometimes, you question whether you’ve just been winging it for the last ten years. That’s usually when you’re surrounded by people you’re supposed to have an affinity with, but they’re all talking about something you think you should probably understand but quite obviously don’t. Worse than that, perhaps you’re supposed to actually be doing it, since, well, surely that’s what you do. That’s what I felt like a couple of hours ago.

I once applied for a senior user experience designer position for a software company in Cambridge. The only sticking point, in their mind, was that I didn’t have any Agile experience. I won’t labour that point, because I have already, suffice to say, despite my protestations that it really wouldn’t be an issue, because I’ll still be able to function if for some reason we have to stand up on a Tuesday morning, it was the one thing I couldn’t honestly say I could tick off their list. I couldn’t adopt their process. I didn’t get the job.

This is ridiculous to me. As a designer, I tend to go through a process. I tend to take a problem, try to understand it, and try to solve it. By design. There’s usually more to it than that, but, really, not much. I’ll put my hand up right now. I could not articulate the difference between waterfall and agile, if questioned. I’m not even sure if those things stand up to comparison on common criteria. I’ve seen the lean UX manifesto and been talked through it a few times, but it’s still just the good bits of UX, without the bad bits. If you want to throw in kano, keynote, kelloggs, that’s fine, but it won’t change the way I approach a problem. I might find that some of the tactical methods are useful, helpful, more efficient. I might loosely adopt some strategies and roll them into a framework suitable for the task at hand. I might find that faced with a hill, just skiing down it is the most appropriate thing to do.

But I won’t pick a process. I’m fine with the one I’ve got. It’s not wilful. I don’t doubt your process is appropriate, effective and successful. I just don’t need it. But thanks for sharing.

A word for a thousand pictures

Well, maybe not a thousand, but a few. Maybe a hundred. And more than just one word. I mean, we’re wont to drivel on about pictures telling a thousand words and that’s pretty useful when we sit in a box all day and sketch things out and then justify it to project managers by saying that it’s critical to visualise and that it helps tell the story and the client will respond, like, totally strongly to that

Except it’s not always true. I’ve spent all day in a box sketching things out that, like, a client will totally respond strongly to, but they simply don’t tell the whole story. They don’t replace a thousand words. There needs to be some words.

And it’s those words which actually articulate the human behaviours and cognitive processes that I think really need to be understood, because it’s those that make the difference in this case. It’s about the emotional response and what that can tell us with regard to the design decisions we make. The pictures are nice, but on their own, however much I stand in front of them and wave my arms around saying things like “this totally expresses their engagement franchise model”, they don’t provide the full contextual description. I can’t have a conversation with the clients about how their customers are feeling and without demonstrating that, I’m not really going to honestly say I’m designing for a great experience. I’m just drawing good pictures.

To Boldly Glow: Experience Design without Borders

When creating user experiences, you need to understand the problem you’re designing a solution for. You’d better engage the users, the customers and stakeholders. You’d better evolve those insights into concepts, journeys, information architectures and design frameworks. You’d better work with the best build and delivery partners.

Most experience design agencies are set up to be able to do exactly this. Most experience design agencies do it pretty well. Mostly

Commoditisation of service offerings

However, as the experience design industry approaches a critical mass, such that it is able to commoditise its service offerings, those services cluster into a set of repeatable, predictable and marketable objects, like practice moths around a service flame. Some agencies might focus on the research cluster. Some might prefer to lead with the design and build cluster. Some might really be able to deliver them all as an integrated experience design offering.

But we’re evolving into digital utilities.

While those commoditised experience design services help clients and agencies agree on deliverables, costs and timelines, the resulting engagement might be less collaboration, more subscription. If a client really does have an articulated, addressable problem, and the service offerings have evolved to the point that we can deliver great user experiences without too much operational overhead, thank you, then everybody is happy. But what about the client that can’t articulate their problem? What if they don’t even have a problem? What if they just have a feeling that things could be somehow ‘better’?

Designing without borders

That’s where we need to take our experience design practice back to designing without service borders. We still gather insights. We still interpret and evolve. We still detail and deliver. But our engagement is based on our excellence in crafting experiences that delight customers and users. We don’t lead with services, we lead with design. Our designers are visionary. They understand the complexities. They’re vibrant, exciting and unique. They don’t shuffle into that workshop with brochureware, they walk in to that workshop self-aware. They boldly glow, and so they should.

listening post: daft punk – the grid

There is no user experience design process

Whenever I look at a new project and I’m mapping a process to the task in hand, I’m reminded of those cutlery deniers in the Matrix. There is no user experience design process.

That’s not to say there aren’t a few processes to choose from. It’s easy to argue that user experience design doesn’t follow process, because really, as Chandra Harrison pointed out the other day, the process is really user-centred design. User experience is really, well, the user experience. Except, I call myself a user experience designer, and when it comes to ‘designing stuff’ that addresses user needs, identifies requirements, suggests solutions, optimises performance, but also needs to be designed efficiently, predictably, and consistently, there’s got to be a reference model for how a design project runs. Well, I say there’s got to be, it’s more like there should be.

Building a design framework

Whatever process you use, if you’re just using one, that seems to work for everything, it might not really work for anything. At least, it might have worked for one thing, but a singular success does not necessarily define a re-usable method. Much better to understand and review previous design projects to understand which approaches worked best in specific instances and then build a design framework that actually supports building your own, modular process to support multiple projects.

There’ll be traditional activities in there, identified from the ground up, like research, design workshops, competitive analysis, wireframing, persona definition, prototyping, and so on. There’ll also likely be a more generic process pathway within which those activities sit. Think ‘discovery’, ‘ideation’, ‘visualisation’, that kind of thing. How you put your framework together largely depends on what kind of projects you, or your organisation, run, but you’ll only know what the elements are if they’re based on a thorough understanding of prior and planned work. How rigid the resulting framework is will depend on your client mix and how diverse your projects are. The flexibility in how you allow staff to pick the best, most relevant elements and roll their own process to suit those clients and projects, is what makes your framework delightful, rather than frightful.

Framework schramework

I should point out that everywhere I’ve worked as a designer in the last 15 years or so has had a project on the go to build the framework I’m talking about. The ones that don’t work tend to focus on deliverables between activities and phases. The ones that work better tend to be more focused on the definition of the activities themselves and what value they add. And, of course, they’re probably redundant anyway, since lean and agile anti-processes are surely going to take over the world. Either way, I’m looking forward to seeing the next one. I’ll let you know how it goes.

listening post: u2 – friday muddy friday