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.
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.
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.
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.
those lovely looking people with the astro-turfed terrace at archibald ingall stretton obviously understand that if you really want to find them, you probably know how to use your own map, and so they have instead provided you with the more immersive user experience of doing the walk for you, so you know what to expect. it tells me everything I need to know about a daily commute from the nearest tube station in a way that Transport for London really never can, complete with pithy social commentary on, amongst other things, the relative worth of free news (although I might have recycled).
its got to be here somewhere, I mean, this is a campsite. so is that. I can see the river from here, its just down there. hang on, lets go back in the town.
its a peculiarity of the towns on the river dordogne that all the best riverside spots are taken by bloody campsites. except it doesn’t necessarily tell you that, as you’re walking around with a cool box full of jambon and brie, in your map de tourisme, which is clamped in your teeth. “but look, that’s (point with nose) a bridge and there’s (point with foot) the river, but that’s (point with pelvis, to concerned looks from passers-by) another campsite. we can’t get over the bridge unless we’ve got the right canoe with us.” as it turns out, we’re slightly in the wrong place on the map, which isn’t surprising, as its not really a map, more a ‘representation’ of the geographical features, but done in thick orange lines and symbols without any explanation. “but surely that’s the abbey, there. look, there’s a cross. no, wait, maybe that’s the hospital. anyway, look, we’re here, and that’s the river. no, hang on, its the scenic walk, but its blue. BLUE.” when we realise we’ve been upside down for an hour, the cheese is ‘a bit runny’ (“I don’t care how f**king runny it is”, etc.), and the baguettes have escaped from the bits of paper wrapped around them and keep slithering off like wheaty snakes, landing in the conveniently placed plops of poodle poo, from which, you are never far, around here.
we finally find the bit by the river ‘like what we saw on the postcard in that shop daddy’ and lo, there’s even a bit of grass and a few benches. after lunch, we were entertained by a nuclear fallout ice lolly which could actually bend and was a nasty shade of of blue (‘that’ll never come off his tshirt you know. why did you buy that?’) and we just sat around for a good while, watching the campsite on the other side of the river and wondering what it would be like sharing that patch of ground with those other people in the caravans pulled up right next to you, even though they’re quite friendly and would probably offer to take your children to a play park somewhere for a few hours. we decided it would be godawful, and then headed back to the villa we’d paid about a thousand pounds for, but hey, it’s got a brick barbeque (which we never used).
“no, we’ll go tomorrow morning. we’ll get up early and we’ll get there before everyone else does. well. look at the queue. no we can’t, its raining. r-a-i-n-i-n-g. can you see? anyway, its four o’clock now. let’s just go back to the house and have a nice cup of tea and then we can work out what we’re doing tomorrow. yes we can come here tomorrow. yes. YES.”
not the day before had we been sat by the cafe pool watching our skin peel in the thirty-five degree heat reading about rupert everett’s passage and feeling very pleased with ourselves when up this morning and window opened with a flourish to see a lank of low cloud lapping around the hillside and very nearly piddling into the bedroom whereupon we unpacked the kag-in-a-bags and determined today would officially be not like it was yesterday I mean cold it might rain, yes r-a-i-n. so we trit-trotted off to the nearest enormous hole in the ground and expected it might be a bit busy at this time of year but I mean it won’t be that bad.
“look, it starts there, goes round there and then it doubles back round that tree there and see, look, it goes back round again and there’s the end, right over there.” “I don’t know, at least an hour.” “an hour? more like two hours.” “two hours?” “yes, look, those people were there when we went to the cafe for that drink (plus that mysterious extra tourist drink inserted in the bill), and now they’re just there.” “who?” “them.” “who?” “them. THEM. oh, je m’excuse, pardon.” “right. that’s it then. what are we going to do instead? its too early to go back now and there’s nothing else around here.” “there’s that insect place.” “insect place?” “yes. that insect place we passed up the road.” “what, you mean, like a hive or something?” “nooo. that insect place. insectopedia. insectipedo. insecticidia. something.” “oh, that ‘insectopia‘ place? with the huge insect outside it?” “yeees. that place.” “oh, well, that’s not going to very interesting is it?” “WELL WHAT DO YOU SUGGEST THEN?”
in the end, insidopia insectopia was a reasonable way to spend the hour you’ve got when the place you really came to see just down the road is overflowing with travelling badgers and gypsies. there’s insects in there. which is kind of interesting. I guess. on the way out there was a small shop that sold huge battery-powered bugs made in ipswich that wheel around the floor blarting out inane playground taunts at well-over-threshold volume which, naturally, we bought two of, and spent the evening watching them wheel around the living room floor, blarting out inane playground taunts at well-over-threshold volume, until one of them got stuck under a foot by mistake and its wiry guts fell out yes we can get you another one, tomorrow, maybe.
bright and early we’re off to a hole in the ground. its porridge weather, so we clad ourselves in nylon and pile into the megane scenic and sing songs from joseph although I’m secretly singing songs from manic street preachers in my head but nobody knows and there’s an inner calm from doing that that makes me almost drive into a river. as we pull up, a queue is forming, but that’s just for the pleasure of weeing into a hole in the ground (a different hole), so we pass straight on to the ticket office and I say something in french that I’m assuming is correct and lo, I get five tickets for the hole in the ground and we’re off kids, come on, we can go in the shop afterwards, oh, they’ve got those bugs too, great.
descending the slippery metalwork while holding at least a couple of hoods the air gets musty and damp and so we overtake the couch party from derbyshire and everything’s alright again. there’s not so much as a queuing system for the underground boats, more of a ‘put your hand up if you think they’ve asked you to and apologetically jump the queue for no reason’ thing going on, so I stick my hand up for no reason and we’re ushered onto a flat-bottomed wreck of a pretend boat affair which is supposed to transport us 2 kilometers or something along a freezing bottomless river to the largest cavern in europe (all caverns are ‘the largest in europe’) and back again, which, in the end, it does, and very interesting it is down there as well, but I’m not going to tell you about it because its teatime. you can look for yourself.
“look mummy, there’s those people we saw on holiday last year that we walk past every day” “no, it can’t be” “mummy, it IIIIIS”. and it was. they had also just entered the pit of hell that, on this particular day, happened to be the car park at the eurotunnel terminal. we had made good time from norwich and we might even have been early enough to catch an earlier train under the sea. I mean, we were booked on the 11:50, and it was11:10 now, as we slipped off the M20 and headed for the terminal gates, our windows down, singing songs from the shows, with the wind in our hair and thoughts of aquitaine in our heads.
“what’s this hold up?” “I’m not sure. it just looks like there a few people waiting behind these lorries. see? up there? it says ‘freight delays, so we’re alright” “is a megane scenic freight?” “no, it’s an em pee vee, a car” “so we’ll be alright then?” “yes” mind you, this is taking a little while. it’s probably always like this. “it wasn’t like this when I came before. we just went straight through.” oh. we’ll be alright. we’re early.
we’d already planned our route by sticking lots of stickers we found down the back of the sofa onto a huge map of france that was so big we couldn’t unfold it in the car. our first stop was a youth hostel just outside orléans and mme niceperson had confirmed our family room so that we didn’t have to share a bathroom with any strange people or anything like that. ooh no. we had to be there before 11 at night, however, as the reception would close to keep the wolves out, or something, but we’d be there way before then, anyway, frolicking in the meadows eating runny cheese. but this wasn’t quite right. we got to the terminal gate and I’d already written off an early departure when a sign on a faded scrolling lcd pointed out that, in fact, there was a 90 minute delay on all crossings. 90 minutes? that’s an entire video of fawlty towers. ah well. it’s a nice day. we can probably boy a magazine and sit in a park somewhere, under a communications system that will keep us informed regarding every development.
I did think that the little posts with lcd letters were a quite twee little thing. you wait for a letter to appear, and if it’s the same as the one on the cardboard coathanger they gave you at the gate, it’s time for you to go. they didn’t have any letter on right now though. perhaps they only put a letter on there when there’s a new one. “what letter is it?” “there isn’t one, its still just an asterisk” “what’s an asterisk?” “you see that thing there? that’s an asterisk” “no it isn’t” “yes it is. what do you think it is?” “its a star” “yes, well, I suppose it is a star”. we’ve been waiting about an hour now. its a nice day and everything, and its ok sitting on the grass here, as more and more cars come past, to find that, actually, the car park is completely full and so they’ll park on the grass. where you are. there’s not been a letter at all. we should probably see what’s going on. and my sandwiches will be getting warm in the boot. I hate it when my sandwiches get warm in the boot. no, it’s an asterisk. I told you that already. sorry.
inside the terminal building there’s a froth of activity, mainly around eurotunnel employees giving out drinks vouchers, wearing pained expressions. the terminal building is much like any other terminal building in the UK, for any other mode of transport. in other words, its a bit rubbish, and you want to leave. except the information desk is in here, as is whsmith, of course, and I’m hankering for a ginsters and red bull. duly dispatched to the information desk, I wait behind a number of people who are lurching over the counter with what look like steam coming out of their tasteless shirt collars. I’m sure there’s no reason to get quite so emboiled. “FOUR HOURS? WHAT DO YOU MEAN FOUR HOURS?” count backwards. walk away. “they said they delay is now four hours” “FOUR HOURS? WHAT DO YOU MEAN FOUR HOURS?” “that’s what I said” “but FOUR HOURS.” I know.
“we should put some sun cream on.” too late. never mind. by now, cars are actually parking on top of each other and the tuts of the middle class can be heard from four miles away. still no letter. those stupid letters are useless. “it’s still a star daddy. it should be a letter” “ITS NOT A BLOODY STAR ITS A BLOODY ASTERISK YES IT SHOULD BE A LETTER. IT SHOULD BE A LETTER ‘D’ LIKE WE HAVE HANGING ON OUR MIRROR, BUT ITS NOT, ITS AN AS-TER-ISK.” dispatched once more to the information desk, there is now a quagmire of venomous plebs waving ‘A’s and ‘B’s around and saying things like “then why did your colleague sat THERE tell me not HALF AN HOUR AGO that letter ‘A’ would be boarding at THREE?” and “so I have to cancel NOW to get a refund? can I not just cancel it later online? we’re going to get a ferry” and “we’ll have to get our tent our right now, eh girls? nyyyeeeeehahahahaahahaaaaa!”. it says on the magnetic board at the back of the desk that ‘C’ and ‘D’ are boarding. bingo. “no, ‘C’ and ‘D’ aren’t boarding yet sir” “but you’ve just stuck a magnetic ‘C’ and ‘D’ on that board behind you” “hang on sir” … ” ‘C’ and ‘D’ are boarding now sir.” excellent. just time to…oh, not there isn’t.
after four hours, a little queue to get through customs will be alright, just so long as we get on the bloody train. it’ll probably only be about half an hour now, this is the quick bit.
three hours later, we’re still stuck at stage two. stage two is the stage that you definitely can not back out of. its the stage after passport control and customs, where you’re actually stateless and the only way is forward. suspiciously, there was a handy mobile grill stop at the head of the queuing system we found ourselves parked in. as it was now 6pm, we needed the tea we’d planned to have somewhere on the other side of paris, but right now, we’re just on the other side of a checkpoint – we can still SEE the terminal. “um. four of the large sausages” “dave, four?” “er. yeah. thas the last” “yeah four. any drink?” “do you have a cup of tea” “well, we have warm water that we turn brown and add a skin to. that’s a pound” “I’ll have one” “there you go love. four sausages. that’s what you call your BIG DOGS” “oh. right. thanks.” of course, no sooner had we settled down at the side of the vacuous road side under what looked like a military installation of some sort to eat our BIG DOGS and squirt ketchup all over ourselves, than there was some kind squawking noise through some kind of loudspeaker signalling some kind of movement in some kind of direction. in fact, it was, finally, our safe passage to the trains granted, and we followed the languid dutch couple in the toyota celica down the ramp, across the platform, up the ramp and onto the train.
“are we on the train now?” “yes, we’re on the train now” “ooh, it smells funny” “I need a wee.” eight hours after we arrived, we departed. we’d missed all our sticky checkpoints on our unfoldoutable map and so we were just making it up now. in the end, we’d actually get as far as orléans, just eight hours late, whereupon we would check into hotel de sleaze and start itching. we had apparently been caught up in ‘operation stack‘, following an outage in one of the rail tunnels and so there had just been one train going backwards and forward all day. some people were actually stuck IN the train, IN the tunnel for three hours, so it could have been worse. of course, not a single person from eurotunnel at any point told us anything about anything that was going on the whole time we were on their property, and I expect those stupid lcd posts have STILL got STARS on them.
all work and no play makes jack a dull boy. all wor k and no play makes jack a dull boy. all work and no playm akes Jack a dull boy. all Work and no play makes ja ck adull boy. all w ork and no play makes jack a dullb oy. all wor kand n o play make s jack a d u ll bo y.a ll w o rk an d nopla y mkes jack a dlboy. all txt nd no kybd mks jack a dumb boy. get me 2 the arprt im going 2 crck. no no no its estes prk not brmfld. I want 2 go 2 DIA. denver. d e n v e r. yes. all sat nav and no driving makes tim a numb boy.
a few hours before the flight and so I did what I meant to do last time. I went to the stanley hotel and pulled funny faces at myself in the mirror. I was hilarious. there’s a dog adventure playground by the lake at estes park. there were dogs adventure playing, which really meant runniing around and refusing to follow their owners over wooden ramps and through hoops. it was entertaining for a while. then a couple of elks scared away all the fish and my camera started making a strange buzzing sound in my ear as I squatted by the power station to take a postcard shot of some ice. with a bench in it. funny, I’ve got a bench on my back and here’s one in the lake. fancy.
only 23 hours to go. then I’ll get ill and watch March turn into a disaster.
lookit. over the edge sweetie. lookit! a train! AAAAAAAAAAAH! MOMMEEEEEE! it’s only 1000 feet down. and we’re still in the visitor centre. for goodness sake.
apparently this was all built by men in stripey suits with toothpicks and saliva. then 100 years later somebody jumps off it attached by a rubber band while cooking waffles in the shape of richard nixon. you’ve got to like that. as it turns out, it’s just a bunch of planks held together with chicken wire and really hard pencils so you won’t get me trundling the kia sorrento over there. I’ll walk thanks. maybe I’ll hang around a bit to see how wobbly it goes. you’re not coming over in that are you. wait. no, wait. I want to get off. damn.
I got up early to avoid the queue, which was just as well, as it’s midday and there is 1 person in front of me at the pay booth for the royal gorge bridge at canon city. there are 4 more people actually in the park. and that’s it. there must be a rerun of the 1998 superbowl on the telly or something. or this will be really boring. I drove for 3 hours to see this, so I hope not. actually, it’s not. I’ve got my w1 and so I’ll be spending the next 3 hours lying down in the middle of a suspension bridge taking pictures of nissans as they roll over my head and leaning out of the cable car window to get a shot of the railroad over half a mile down there in the valley. I’ll also spend 30 minutes taking pictures of myself looking in a mirrored window of a faux colorado trading post trying to get a mountain reflected in my sunglasses reflected in the window without breaking into parallax.
I walk over. I walk back. I get the cable car over. I walk around a bit. I get the cable car back. I check out the closed cafes and foodstalls. I go down to the floor of the gorge in the steepest incline railway in the world. I go back up to the top of the gorge in the steepest incline railway in the world. I eat an apple. I get in the kia surrender and drive off the edge of a cliff, which was also built by the same people who build the bridge, but on their days off, which they didn’t have, because they were all murderers and tax frauds banged up in the prison capital of colorado, good old canon city. I get lost by a dirt bike track and then head back to the hotel where I eat the head of a buffalo and lie down in the hallway jibbering about man bags.