Little big details

Little Big Details isn’t updated much any more but is still a great archive of those little design details that make big differences for their product.

Invisible yet essential sometimes, these are the things that get me excited about design. Not the big glaring obvious pieces of design, but the tiny things that most people will never even notice or consider unless they were absent. Unsung heroes. 

A personal favourite I just reencountered that prompted me to post: Taking the headphone jack out of an iPhone while listening to music or a podcast, and having it pause the audio rather than carry on blurting it out loud.

Little things. 

Writing (bad) poetry from the successive options given by iOS 8 predictive text. 

Can we stop pulling these posts into Slack please?

Writing this predominantly for work, where this post will be pulled automatically into the group Slack channel, the act of which has stirred a growing discomfort that I have about the automation of everything. 

So, firstly to With Associates: Can I ask that we turn off the Mathew Bot that automatically pulls my posts into the group chat channel please?

While the setting up of the bot was a lovely thought (thank you Jamie), I’ve come to find that the automated reality of having these posts pulled in isn’t as nice as the idea (for me at least). 

It feels interrupting to the channel, a little like I’m taking behind your backs, rather than having the conversation with you. Also, it slightly distracts me when writing: Adding a guaranteed automated outlet for all of my posts, that I know you’ll all see (and possibly feel like you have to read). 

But most of all perhaps, it’s that all 9 of you have it automatically delivered whether you want it or not, at a time that might not be right for you. 

It just feels like it’s on the edge of automation being useful vs. it being noisy and unwanted. 

Thanks again though, but let’s turn my noise off in Slack. The blog post portion at least. What do you reckon?

The discomfort that this train of thought touches on is that the general automation of everything seems to have sights set on sentiment and consideration, which I’m thinking is a step too far.

Helping me to do laborious tasks more quickly is great. Aggregating news feeds that I choose to be pulled into onc place is fantastic. Even suggesting things I might like based on the other things I’ve looked at it useful, if we’re honest. 

And the cars that will be driving us soon, and the news that will be writing itself, and the drugs that will be prescribed by software without human intervention, while scary, are also pretty exciting automations.

But the automation of having something make you think about someone else rather than you having to actually pay attention to them consciously, feels a little too far. 

If that’s too abstract in the context of my posts and a work chat channel, then think instead about the awful chatty automated responses that website forms or error pages give you. Or Twitter accounts of companies that practice lazy social networking in their fulfilment processes. Or Facebook birthday reminders, that noisily remind you about the birthdays of a subset of your friends on Facebook. Forget those that don’t want their date of birth shared with everyone, or friends that aren’t on Facebook, or your parents who are scared of using it.

Basically, I wager that while everything can probably be automated, that the act of consciously thinking about other people that are genuinely important to you, and having thoughts about them that are not generated for you, is something that we should never try to relieve ourselves from. 

And that goes for robot seals and monkeys, designed to care for the elderly. Or at least planning for that to be all the care that someone receives. 

DNA dating

"Find out how genetics and psychology influence your relationship" with 'Instant Chemistry’.

Further to recent thoughts abut innovation through plot device, the people at seem to have done exactly that after watching GattacaVia Slate.

How long to their service is delivered via a freemium app! 79p bolt on for hereditary disease data… 

Customer communication

It surprises and delights me every time a company does customer communications well, even if for the most mundane reasons. Got this message this morning from Campaign Monitor

As a user of Monitor for iPhone you may have noticed a frustrating bug surface in the last couple of weeks that resulted in the app freezing. We wanted to reach out, apologize for letting this one slip into a release, and let you know it’s now been fixed once and for all.

Version 1.2.2 was released today so if you update to that one you won’t have any more problems.

This bug had been bugging me. I think they could have sent something earlier ideally, to say they were working on it, because it was seriously annoying and making me think they were being a bit lacklustre, but getting this email today eliminates all doubt and negative feeling about the brand. 

Had a similar experience with London Pride recently. Tweeted the brand that I kind of liked, without expectation that they’d even get back and they were on it. Even just that first reply made me like them more. 

Had a similar experience with Giraffe three years ago. In that case I had no brand feelings for them at all, but getting a quick and helpful response to an inquiry sparked some respect. 

In contrast, a brand that I won’t name, took customer comms too far with what seemed like an automated tweet stream for an entire order fulfilment process, with terrible jokes and all. In that case I think they’ve actually lost me as a customer. 

That’s not to say it’s a fine line for getting it right. Just that it’s best not to tweet jokes containing the word ‘dead’ when telling customers that you’re addressing an envelope to them. 

Simon Anholt: Which country does the most good for the world?


If you want to sell more products, if you want to get more investment, if you want to become more competitive, then you need to start behaving, because that’s why people will respect you and do business with you, and therefore, the more you collaborate, the more competitive you become.

CGP Grey: Humans Need Not Apply

I can’t get enough of this video. It puts so many of my random thoughts from the past decade into a succinct little package. Good design isn’t just going to mean that we don’t have to think. It’ll mean we don’t have to work, or more worryingly, that there’ll be no work left that we’re fit to do. 

Reminds me a little of The Second Renaissance from The Animatrix.

Innovation through plot device

Listening to another great edition of Peter Day’s World of Business, GlobalBiz: Inside Silicon Valley, and to people moaning about innovation not happening fast enough, slowly enough, or sustainability enough. Generally, not enough. 

Got to thinking about how best to innovate or have innovative ideas, and like most answers in life, realised Star Trek held the answer: Sci-fi plot devices.

All the silly ideas they probably just came up with quickly to lazily help the plot along. The communicatorUhura’s ear piecePADDmedical scanners, replicators, holodecksuniversa translator, and asking ‘computer' when anyone has a question, are just mobile phones, bluetooth earpieces, iPads, all current effort in the personal health device sector, synthetic food production, augmented reality, Google translate, and Siri or TomTom respectively. 

Let’s stop forcing our thinking about what a great product might be now, and think instead about how to move a conversation or situation along in a story. Extreme user story style.

Bloody British courtesy

I was part of a consensus recently, about how some European nations sound to our sensitive British ear like they’re arguing when they talk, and more specifically, that some seem to actually like a debate when conversing. Like a gentle sparing bout. 

The problem with being British however is that we’re more likely to roll over and expose our bellies in tricky conversations, than we are to forcefully express what we actually think. And damn us, I can’t stand it. And our worldly satirised bumbling Hugh Grant / Boris Johnson stammering and backtracking. 

Wonder if things were different in the Empire and Industrial Revolution days and if British conversational cautiousness is a recent thing? Maybe even an apologetic repercussion from being such horrible imperialistsfor so long. 

Sorry, were you using that? Oh! It’s yours? Oh, gosh, right, sorry, please, have it back. Sorry. Keep the Monarch if you like maybe. Good for parties and flags and such.

At the same time, I can see slight advantages to our nervousness. It’s good to be considerate and sensitive to the needs of others. To empathise rather than critisize and lambast. But then again, it’s more important at times to speak up and add value rather than just to follow a status quo. 

See, I’m doing it now. Pick a side man. Speak up. And go and ask that woman again if you can use the plug, since that’s what got you on this train of thought in the first place. She’s had it for ages since saying ‘oh, just a moment more’. It’s your turn to charge your computer. Say so. Oh, hang on. She’s left. Now it’s my turn.

8 August 2014. 3.30pm. E5 Bakehouse Arch 395, Mentmore Terrace, London, E8 3PH. Accompanied by an iced latte (7/10) followed by a Square Root London Traditional Soda Lemonade ‘Handmade in Hackney’ (5/10) and a loaf of Multigrain to go (10/10).

Journeyman eating, drinking and writing trial run concluded. Conclusion: Too indulgent. Like eating 20 eclairs, in front of people. Leaves you feeling a bit sick and embarrassed. Gave it a go though. What’s next? 

Holidays, Life Admin and Free Fridays

Everyone at With Associates gets one month of Free Fridays each year. Months are randomly picked from a hat, and our respective consecutive four Fridays are put firmly in to the holiday calendar at no cost to anyone’s holiday allowance (hence ‘free’ Fridays).

The ‘free’ philosophy that goes with these days is the encouragement to keep them free, and not book them into long weekends or plan too much that requires reliance on other people. Booking holiday is for those things. Free Fridays are for guilt free indulgence, life admin, lazing or just trying and doing things you normally don’t have time for. 

We’ve done this for 6 or 7 years now and it’s become oddly essential, to the extent that I can’t imagine how other people and companies manage without it. All year I save up tasks and look forward to my chance to do nothing without it costing me anything. 

It’s a bit mindfulnessy really, but prescheduled for you with a little help from fate. Or a little like a long train journeys used to be, before mobile singal was good enough to keep you connected and distracted from just looking out of the window and watching the world go by (whilst productively making your way from A to B).

If you run a company then, I’d suggest giving this chance to your employees. If you’re employed by a company, then I’d suggest asking for it. If you already do it and you’re on one now like me, what you up to? Me? Today, life admin, writing and eating. And it’s ace. 

8 August 2014. 1.30pm. Little Georiga 87 Goldsmith’s Row. London E2 8QR. Accompanied by a Scrambled Eggs and ‘Snazzy Beans’ (5/10) an apple juice (8/10) and another flat white (5/10). 

Where would you link to for a 1984 reference?

Did it feel ironic linking to Wikipedia to reference 1984 in my last post? Is it the closest manifestation of a Ministry of Truth in the real world? Or is it our best hope against a 1984 style future? Wish Orwell were alive to see it. Who’s the modern day Orwell? What’s the value of posting questions in a blog post? Am I just hoping this will make conversation with my colleagues? Or am I just unwilling to stand by any points that I’m raising here?

Whatever way, question marks really are easy lazy tools in writing, aren’t they? Seriously though, JamieAnna, who’s the modern day Orwell? 

8 August 2014. 12.30pm. Little Georiga 87 Goldsmith’s Row. London E2 8QR. Accompanied by a flat white (5/10). 

Thought begat speed

In a lovely piece shared by Erin about the life of data bits (What Bits Want), there’s a particularly well put line on a topic that keeps troubling me as a designer:

"Increasingly, it is cheaper to store data than to figure out whether it should be erased."

It has become so easy to do a thing, that we no longer need to question if we should even do it. It has become easier not to think about something. It is advantageous not to think about an action. No matter how I put this, I find our increasing opportunity to not have to think about things disturbing.

Yes, the quote is about not thinking about data storage and not about thoughtlessly declaring war on another country, but, the same technology and innovation that’s making data storage a thoughtless act is developing and driving autonomous weapon systems, like the X-47B aka Salty Dog 502* which landed itself on an aircraft carrier for the first time in 2013:

I’m taking the fear over the top perhaps, from bits to bombs, but both examples point to the fact that we’re spending more time and energy on helping people to not think, than is perhaps healthy. Having a small group of clever people write software and build tech that allows the majority to think less. 

For more on this paranoid fear, see Idiocracy or Wall-E where our pacifying-dystopian fate is taken to the extreme (and put far more elegantly and entertainingly than I can do in writing). Or read 1984. This isn’t a new idea, I realise that, but it’s the idea that design is playing the trojan horse role for our dystopia, rather than policy or politics that’s worrying.

Just realised the slight irony here with Apple referencing 1984 in their famous 1984 Macintosh ad

*Giving a scary weapon a funny name is a great way to lessen the social impact, isn’t it. Growing up I remember thinking how fun the bouncing bomb sounded when my dad watched Dam Busters.

8 August 2014. 11.00am. La Bouche  35–37 Broadway Market, London, E8 4PH. Accompanied by a free water with lemon in it (3/10 - I can’t stand lemon in water). 

Journeyman eating, drinking and writing

I’m trialling an idea today that I’ve wanted to act on for ages. It’s an indulgent idea, based mostly on a hunger for food, mixed with an equally large appetite for having time to think.

Between my day of dentist appointments (check), supplier phone calls, one exciting meeting, and perhaps a swim if my back feels better, I am going to drift from cafe to cafe, to eat and drink and write.

Rather than splurge everything online at the time of writing, I’ll schedule the posts over the coming days, depending on how many I write. If all goes well, as in, enjoyably, I’ll do a proper full day session next Friday.

8 August 2014. 10.30am. La Bouche  35–37 Broadway Market, London, E8 4PH. Accompanied by a bacon and egg mayo breakfast corn bap (7/10) and flat white (7/10).  

This American Life 293: A Little Bit of Knowledge

I’m became a This American Life convert in 2012 after a few months of really not getting it. I am now practically in love with Ira Glass and the way he tells stories. 

If you don’t know it, then this is for you. If you do, then this is a reminder to listen now. And if, like me at first, you don’t like it, then try again now, with this recent episode. 

Radio, podcasting, storytelling, idea sharing sharing, at its very best.

Re last post: Said the man that named With Associates…

Calling myself out here. It’s not just geographical or technology based brand names that are difficult to get right, it’s all branding. Branding and naming anything is hard with expectation to be prophetic about every eventuality. 

I thought our With Associates name was a nice little idea and gave an immediate clue to our philosophy. Working ‘with’ people. Not for, or against, or behind. With. But when we phone people, I get the feeling that this is what they hear:

"Hello, is Victoria there? Great. It’s Mathew Fromworth Associates… No, Withell Sociates… No, WIIIITH. W-I-T-H Associates. With Associates. Yes, that’s it. Great. Thanks."

Every. Single. Time. 

I still like the name though and stand by the philosophy. W+I+T+H.

Bonus Material: A great naming fail I only recently learned about is from the new world of create hashtags that are unique enough to own yet easy enough to type and read. 

Susan Boyle having an album party, easy… #susanalbumparty

Wait. What?