Browser Tab Amnesty #3

Perverse incentives’ are incentives that have unintended and undesirable results that are contrary to the intentions of its designers. 
Also known as unintended consequences, or the cobra effect, or by a whole number of other names and stories. Whatever it’s called, whenever I hear these terms, my mind goes to UX design-related cases, specifically, and the situation we’re in with Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, Instagram and so on. None were originally designed to be as incendiary and harmful as they’ve become, but they’re only getting worse with every single tweak or ‘improvement’ that’s made. Would it actually be possible to make any of them better?


Paper Airplane Designs. A database of paper aeroplanes with easy to follow folding instructions.
A brilliant resource. Saved for the kids, though really for me. 


Hedonistic sustainability. An oxymoronic feeling term that I think we need a little more of, if sustainable practices are to stick.  
That said, it’s an old term, from the lofty side of the architecture world, and from a practice that doesn’t really seem to have sustainable or accessible practices at its core. But then, what do I know about practical sustainability or architecture? Opinions only, really. Still, IMO, I like the idea of making the sustainable desirable. 


Bernard Rudofsky’s 1940 illustration of the number of buttons and pockets that a “fully-clothed man carries”.
Pretty sure I heard about this via Season 1 of Articles of Interest. I love the documentation of the mundane. It feels like this observation was made just as the fashion that dictated such excess was ending though. Nice to have captured it when he did. 


Insta-repeat: A meta-Instagram account, compiling 12 different photos of basically the same thing. 
A sobering and perhaps slightly depressing collection of images, reminding us that nothing is original. Woohoo! 


Stelarc. Integrating robotics and technology into his body since the 80s.
I’ve thought about this guy countless times since seeing him talk in the early 2000s. He came to mind every time someone did something body-tech; when Bluetooth started being used to identify us around the place or unlock our devices automatically; whenever I saw new forms of prosthetics; every time people started talking about wearables as some sort of ingenious new possibility. Every time, I wonder why he isn’t being referenced as an originator or prophet of this technological melding. Still wondering now. 


The Oatmeal. How to use a semicolon. 
Something I always have to search for to check, before deciding ‘I don’t care I’m just going to use them’. This time an Oatmeal page came as the top resource. Pretty impressive for a page that’s not including alt text or even captions as far as I can see. Bit of a shame. 


Tomas Sciskala treehouse (log cabin) images.
I’ve found these images several times on various sites over the years, and always marvelled at the amazing structural glass. How is that clean angle even possible? One reverse image search later, I discovered that the work was CG. It’s still a great image though, and for me, a surprisingly long way out of the uncanny valley. Easier to spot flaws in the larger versions of the image, but really, that glass should have been the giveaway. I must have been thinking about transparent aluminium… 


How French animator Kévin Gemin taught himself to animate on the Nintendo DS.
Magically characterful and nuanced animations, created with the most basic and clunky of tools. Silly, yes, but wonderfully so. Do yourself a favour and trawl his Youtube, then dig deep here and support him. Watch one of his gifs for a while and revel in the tiny subtle movements and details. 


Animated gifs made easy.
Easy online tool for editing animated gifs without watermarks or bonkers file sizes. An essential tool as I slowly extract myself from Adobe apps. Photoshop schmotoshop.  


Bernard Rudofsky’s 1940 illustration of the number of buttons and pockets that a “fully-clothed man carries”.

Tomas Sciskala treehouse (log cabin) CG bedroom
Tomas Sciskala treehouse (log cabin) CG kitchen

Pigeons by Kekeflipnote aka Kéké on Pateron

Milk Cat by Keke

Buying domain names for daydream projects: The big money edition

An interesting read about how Basecamp acquired hey.com for their email product. They don’t reveal the sum they paid, but guesses are invited, so I’m throwing my reckoning of $500,000. Whatever it cost in the end though, I bet it was a tense and niggly 18 months. 

It resonates particularly with me today, after spending yet more time musing over names and their potential URL options for one of my own little daydream projects. I’m a tad closer to some available ideas, but those ones that feel great but have already gone, keep stinging their envious stings. Especially when they’re just being squatted. 

I’ll find something, I’m sure. And if not soon then, heck, maybe I’ll have to work on the actual idea!


Footnote. Posting about a post from Jason, with awareness of the Basecamp news from earlier this year. Without wading into those exact issues now, I will note my ongoing confusion about how we should deal with the past and present achievements of individuals that have fallen from grace, or that have been posthumously revealed as, well, sometimes, arseholes. More often than not it’s clear that we have to cut ties with our old understandings and emotions, but occasionally I find myself struggling to teach my kids about a great idea or achievement from history, while also explaining that the human that had it or did it, is kind of horrible by our standards today. To just not tell them some ideas feels wrong. But to risk excusing behaviour because of unrelated achievements is equally sticky. I dunno. Looking forward to talking with others about this now I’m back in the UK. Drop me a line if you’re up to discuss. 

Browser Tab Amnesty #2

I finally updated my phone. The old iPhone 7 had a damn good 5-year stint, and hobbled across the line with a tired battery, a broken microphone (an issue that plagued the iPhone 7, so I read), and a case with all its silicone worn off. Worst of all, in the last weeks, the glass cracks expanded to the point of being able to see the insides, which is a tad gross when you anthropomorphise objects as I do. 

This time around, I decided not to copy everything across to the new phone. It’s a tidy iOS trick to restore all your previously backed up states and settings, but I wanted a fresh start. Back in the UK, setting myself up anew, looking at potential opportunities. It’s a new chapter. A new start. 

That said, the old 7 was also a bit of a mess inside too. Weird settings I changed and shouldn’t have, useless apps in folders that I couldn’t be bothered to sort through, cookies and caches that I can likely do without, and most of all, an enormous Safari tabs debt that I couldn’t face ignoring any longer. 

I couldn’t just delete it either though. I’m a bit of a tab hoarder. First self-diagnosed when the iOS tab limit was just 33! I like to use them as a soft reading list, reference file, idea jogger, and even a sort of serendipity engine when I stumble upon a long-forgotten reference that for some reason resonates, even more, many months later. 

So here we go again, following my first Browser Tabs Amnesty from long ago, with another, which will be followed by many more as I finally make my way through the now rather increased tab limit (which is 500 apparently, and I think the old phone was near it 😬). 


Tom Gauld draws lots of lovely robots.
I did this image search a looong time ago while daydreaming about a little philosophical comic strip project. I’ve long loved Toms work, ever since seeing what I think was his first exhibition at the old St. John Street offices of SEA. In later years I was lucky enough to share a studio with Tom and got to witness his work and processes first-hand. Since then though, an occasional image search of his work is all I have to scratch the itch. Lovely stuff, as always. 


Oat The Goat. An interactive, browser-based kids story from some very smart folk in New Zealand.
This was limit-pushing browser-based work when it first came out, so much so, that my browsers (iPhone and iPad at least) could hardly manage. Thankfully it’s still up and working, and on revisiting, it’s as impressive as ever. Simply beautiful animation, illustration, storytelling and voice work (listen to it being read, it’s magical). All that, on top of the brilliantly crafted build. Just look at these resources. 😍


DSM-5, aka. the Diagnostic And Statistical Manual Of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, aka. The ever-expanding project to catalogue all human traits for classification as ‘conditions’.
A weird reference to have kept, opened after reading The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson. I think I was fascinated by his descriptions of what it is and what it represents. That the manual is both essential in helping to diagnose and treat serious illnesses, as well as a tool for pharmaceutical companies to use as a shopping list of new conditions that they can possibly push helpful drugs for. I may have misunderstood all of this, however, but the manual remains very interesting nonetheless. I’d love to have a browse one day. 


Itty bitty sites are contained entirely within their own link. (Including this one!). 
I remain to be fascinated and impressed by this project, while still unable to imagine a use for it, personally. Have a look at the length of the link once it’s open in your browser. That’s all the ‘code’ for the page and its contents. Clever, huh! Feels like something for nocode.tech, which I only just stumbled across today (see, a serendipity engine, I told you). 


An effective 60+ year-old responsive design guideline from Coca-Cola.
I refound this image when teaching about responsive website designs a few years back, when such ideas were still proving difficult for many to get their heads around. It feels like an ideal explainer for print designers to understand the notion that what they design for the screen cannot remain fixed, and instead must adjust in interesting ways. 


The Future Library. A newly planted forest, for paper, for a book to be printed in 100 years time.
And no one will read the book before then. I adore this project. It touches on so many ideas and speaks clearly to so many issues. Even just the fact that I will never live to see it be produced. Just brilliant. 


A nice recycled leather handwoven herringbone rug. 
Quite a change of pace to the previous link, but there’s an ecological theme running through. Mostly, it’s just a nice looking rug.  


Steve Jobs resisted third-party apps on iPhone.
An old reference, even for an old set of browser tabs, but it’s as useful and valid as ever when explaining ideas of iteration and pivoting to students (who are often wedded to the feeling that their ideas and work are ‘done’ or ‘finished’ or simply beyond improvement). I still marvel at it myself, that Jobs didn’t want third-party apps on the iPhone, meaning that he didn’t envisage the app store, or have any real inkling of the estimated $41.5 billion 2021 value/revenue (🤷‍♂️) of the Apple App Store. For me, this one example illustrates the really exciting prospect, that ideas are out there, waiting to be tried, tweaked, and developed, into potentially unimaginably valuable things. 


I want an artist made mechanical automata, please.
These things mesmerise me for some reason. Take a visit to the Southwold Pier Under the Pier Show for large scale real-life examples (or visit timhunkin.com). Maybe it’s to do with how utterly analogue and in-person these objects are. So far from anything web, app or tech-based. Oh, and I found another tab with a site selling nice automata kits too.  


Control Panels. In praise of dials, toggles, buttons, and bulbs.
Look! This one’s so old, it’s a Tumblr! Again, I’m slightly mesmerised by control panels and don’t really know why. I loved the Lego ones as a kid, and always take a ton of photos when I come across some in real life. I just need to be careful that the fascination doesn’t let loose at teenage.engineering/store (where I need nothing but want everything). 


Lovely robots by Tom Gauld
Oat The Goat
Coca-Cola advertising manual at Letterform Archive: Vertical and Special Treatments
Lego control panels
Cafeteria La Termica Museo Nacional Energia Ponferrada Spain, by me.
Teenage Engineering pocket operator modular 400

Generational amnesia: The memory loss that harms the planet

As each new generation inherits the world, vital knowledge is forgotten. Richard Fisher explores the language that has emerged to describe that phenomenon.
Read at BBC Future

I’ve had this thought a number of times over the years. It’s always felt more to me like a generational dementia though, which in turn, feels like a horrible simile to make.

I don’t mean it flippantly though. Having seen family members suffer with dementia, I know how hideous it is. It’s damaging, unfair, cruel and wasteful. But that’s how this generational loss feels as well.

Push the Platform lecture links

Collected hyperlinkable references from Teams, Friday 13 November 2020, with Kingston School of Art, BA Graphic Design Level 6. Shared here in blog post form, in my own little push, to the platform of presenting and following up on a lecture.*

It’s Mice That
A record from the day that mice took over It’s Nice That.

Pair-Up
“Pair Up is a place for creatives to find and offer their time to others with the goal of sharing, learning and problem solving with each other.”

Affordances
A fun little retro video explaining the idea of ‘affordances’, presented by Don Norman, who also features in the Wireframe podcast referenced below. It would be well worth your while to research more about Don Norman, his books and his influence. 

Thoughtless Acts
This blog post serves as a good summary relating to my rubber bands, my references to where others have hacked/fixed things, and to my shared observations of emerging user needs. All these things I feel can fall generally under the ‘thoughtless acts’ umbrella, and in turn, point loudly toward UX opportunities and insights. 

The affordance of Excel (drummachine)

The affordance of a record player (animation)

The affordance of pano mode (warped reality and massive hotdogs)

The affordance of a lamp (passive yet intimate conwnectivity)

The affordance of a wooden toy (Availabot)

The Alternative Uses Test
A little more background on the object affordance task.

Blu-Tack affordance as an advert
I randomly came across this while quickly checking the correct spelling of Blu-Tack (was it Blu-Tack, Blu-Tak, Bloo-Tak?). Interesting to see them pushing the multiple uses of the product as an intended feature.

Instagram slideshow ‘hack’
This was the first example I had seen of someone creatively hacking the horizontal slideshow functionality, shortly after Instagram added it to the app. By ‘hack’, I mean by using it in a way that it was not necessarily designed for. Pushing the boundaries of the designed parameters.

A lot of this pushing behaviour has occurred on Instagram over the years, in much the same way that the app itself has classically pushed the platform of the iPhone camera, image filters and image sharing.

Although, to be honest, I’ve always felt that Instagram was less an innovator, than the most successful trickle down supply chain, for innovations made by others. Much like a Madonna of the app industry. A posts on these accusations to follow another time, perhaps. 

Insta-repeat
Less a hack, and more a meta exploration of the instagram platform itself. 

Instagram layout hacks 
A collection of these, featuring the Rick and Morty example at the top, which sadly no longer works, as all the internal tags and links seemed to have died. 

On desire paths
“paths and tracks made over time by the wishes & feet of walkers, especially those paths that run contrary to design or planning”.

More on desire paths
I really am a big fan of desire paths. Also of this podcast. Subscribe and start listening now if you’ve never heard of it. 

Different types of Zoomers
Note links through to his various other parts. Again, consider here how relatable these little skits are. How quickly video conferencing has become ubiquitous, and in turn, parodied in such a relatable way. Every one of these types highlights a friction with the platform. An opportunity to solve or address a user need.

Room Rater
As above, a comedy account that only works because of the now common voyeuristic pastime, of looking behind people, into their previously private spaces. Note the double edge reality of this though, as people are doing the same to you. What future design solutions exist to address this behaviour?

Goats in meetings
Part business innovation in times when your farm is closed. Part recognition and solution to the issue of video conference calls being so damn boring sometimes. Come on design community! When a small farm is offering more innovative solutions to user needs than you, you know your falling behind.

Wireframe Podcast S03E02
Make particular note of the emergent use and related behaviour with the security camera. From impersonal, paranoid, and defensive security device, to intimate, familial and emotional portal. 

TV remote made easier
From Designing Interactions by Bill Moggridge. An aside on the book that this image comes from: Consider how changes in technology mark the passing of innovation into irrelevance. When this book came out in 2007 it was still quite cutting edge – and a very attentive consideration toward user needs – to attach a DVD with supplementary video content. Now, it seems almost naive, that a book about designing good interactions could include such an inaccessible, unsharable and obsolete format. Note that the book remains to be a great historical document, and I encourage that you seek a copy for reference. 

WFH and the making of
One of my favourite video production companies, with a brilliantly smart and rapid response to life and work and getting on with things back when the first lockdown started. Watch both videos on this page. The first is simply a great advert. The second, is an even more impressive reveal of how the ad was made and the ingenuity that was employed to make it happen.

Video conferencing in the movies
Clip from Avengers Assemble (there’s also another good clip in Captain America Winter Soldier (at 00:23:00), and a great one (Thanks AOD) from Kingsman. This one could be even more prophetic in coming years as the AR glasses product market evolves). 

With the Avengers Assemble example in particular – consider how we accept (albeit in the fantasy narrative of the Marvel Cinematic Universe) that this makes sense and would be possible for a super secret agency. It’s just a video call, right? Like we do, but with bigger screens and cooler seeming user interfaces. No big deal. 

But consider the conceit, of what it would take for all the meeting attendees to appear in the exact same way on screen. Each one must have a special little booth in their remote locations. Perhaps a stand alone box in their lounge? Or under the stairs, like some people have a little second toilet. Or in the garden, like those fancy studio sheds.

Now, consider that someone designed these boxes, and explicitly decided to install just one dim light, directly above the occupant, so that their face couldn’t be seen… IN A VIDEO CONFERENCING BOOTH. This design concept was signed off by the S.H.I.E.L.D Creative Director, and put into production.

Next, imagine the install team and tech support required. Each booth would have had a team of workers, traveling all over the world to install them, and will no doubt need ongoing support, like firmware updates and security patches, and maybe even light bulb replacements (in fact, maybe the lights are so dim because they’re all about to die?).

Finally, every attendee is wearing a suit. Nick Fury (the dude with the eyepatch, in case you’re not as invested in these movies as I clearly am), has just called them during an emergency. Do they all just wear suits all day? Just in case they’re called into a quick dimly lit conference call? Are some still wearing PJs and slippers under the desks? Or was this a scheduled call time, which Nick Fury previously spent hours emailing back and forth about, looking for a time that fitted with everyone? 

These thoughts go through my mind every time I see fictional tech in movies like this. It would seem I’m not the only one… 

Video conferencing in reality
Make sure you’ve watched the Avengers Assemble link above (and I recommend playing this at 1.5 speed to improve the timing a bit). Once more, consider how these jokes, parodies, frictions, classic issues and user needs, are all clear signals of room for improvement or innovation. 

Portl Hologram (not a hologram) video box
One company looking to improve in this space, although, as joked about above, who has the space for the equipment needed? A 7 foot box sure won’t fit under the stairs. But then, it’s not quite intended for video conferencing. But could it be? Or a version of it?

*A blog post? 
Is this a good way for sharing references after a lecture? Is this falling foul of the accusation above, with a book containing a DVD? Is this an obsolete and so, irrelevantly inaccessible format? What other way could / should we engage after a lecture? And is post lecture conversation and engagement a new issue, emerging from remote learning? Or has it always been a problem that we’ve previously just not noticed? 

Getting started in, and keeping up with the world of UX

TL;DR. Please share with me, your recommendations for sources of insight and inspiration in the (broad) world of UX**, for people that aren’t into it yet, but that want to be. 

Think about the little details though, not just classic beginner books. What are the niche little resources that you perhaps take for granted?

Essential people to follow on Twitter, invaluable newsletters with links to articles, agencies with a lovely ethic and portfolio of work, big famous agencies, that everyone ‘should’ know about, silly blogs with funny observations, serious and respected writers, Instagram accounts, and so on. Tell me your thoughts*, so that I can share with my students. 

Once collected, I’ll compose another post or page of links. And do by best to keep it up to date. Like Yahoo in 1994, but with more humble aims. 

Thanks.

*Here’s an example of my links. Sources and people and agencies that I almost intuitively read and check in on, but that are not at all obvious or all that findable for students in study, and interested in UX, UI, service design, and user first design and research in general. 

  • twitter.com/louisedowne – On so many levels for me, Lou is really valuable to follow and be aware of. 
  • This deserves your attention, by leisa reichelt – Leisa’s links are like gold! Every reading list contains essential links that I only come across with her help.
  • bitzesty.com, clearleft.com, wearefuturegov.com – I’ve met people from all three, would be proud to work at all three, and feel it’s valuable to keep track of all three. 
  • ideo.com – To those that know, IDEO is perhaps obvious, but I’m still stunned by the number of students that haven’t heard of them, and so feel like I’m giving a gift when I help with the discovery.
  • grumpy.website – This one’s a bit of a guilty pleasure. So nice to see someone else getting frustrated by little details.
  • russelldavies.typepad.com – I wish he would write more. Like a more erudite and more positive version of grumpy.website in some ways, but like Leisa, very often the one to share ideas and articulate perspectives that feel too good to miss.

These are just a few examples, for giving an idea of what I mean by ‘sources of insight and inspiration’.

**Let’s not get into terminology and taxonomy here, suffice it to say, the world of design where we consider people, users, interactions, needs, services and experiences. 

Repair is as important as innovation

This article about the importance of repair, and a possibly emerging trend toward a celebration of maintenance (see Festival of Maintenance) has aligned with a few other philosophies on my mind of late.

Firstly, Kintsugi:

… the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum… As a philosophy, it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise.

Which (secondly) emerges from Wabi-sabi:

… a world view centred on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”.

To a small extent, these ideas lead to a smaller, yet longer standing pondering, about iterative processes. In particular, how we seem almost biologically incapable (despite countless examples of brilliance only ever emerging from constant trails and refinements) to recognise that instant and ever lasting perfection is impossible. Great, or even just good things, need time and maintenance to emerge.

Fourthly, all these ideas point toward my simmering intrigue in the circular economy, defined and supported most impressibly by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

Looking beyond the current take-make-waste extractive industrial model, a circular economy aims to redefine growth, focusing on positive society-wide benefits. It entails gradually decoupling economic activity from the consumption of finite resources, and designing waste out of the system. Underpinned by a transition to renewable energy sources, the circular model builds economic, natural, and social capital. It is based on three principles:

Design out waste and pollution.
Keep products and materials in use.
Regenerate natural systems.

And finally, fifthly, and perhaps most tangentially, all these points seems to resonate with positive aspects connected to the trend of mindfulness, which I’ve heard talked about in the context of self maintenance (though I’ll be damned if I can find where I’ve seen that).

Not too sure where all this is leading, but like with an old post about chains of thought, it feels useful and cathartic to get the ideas out, and grouped together in some way.

Design Thinking is a reframing of design

I previously tweeted this link, but adding here for reference. Shh! Don’t Tell Them There’s No Magic In Design Thinking by Jared Spool, is a wonderfully level headed read on the topic of “Design Thinking”.

To those of us who’ve been doing this for a long time, design thinking doesn’t mean anything new. But it also doesn’t mean ‘make it pretty.’ And that’s why it works.
It changes the conversation. When you add ‘thinking’ to the word ‘design, it’s no longer about color or decoration. It’s now about process. It’s about getting to a more intentional outcome. It’s about thinking about the experience of the customer, user, and employee.

This is it in a nutshell for me – clear, simple, and useful – and so the seemingly large community of design thinking critics truly baffles me.

The Box That Changed Britain (and the world)

I was sure that I’d posted about this before, but apparently not. The Box that Changed Britain (which can currently be seen on YouTube) is BBC 4 documentary about the shipping container.

Poet Roger McGough narrates the extraordinary story of how a simple invention – the shipping container – changed the world forever and forced Britain into the modern era of globalisation.

It’s a premise that sounds incredibly dry, but the history of the box, the ideas behind it, the economics, and the open source factor (an inescapable world wide web metaphor) make for a fascinating watch. Would love to see a part 2 that covers the current movement for repurposing shipping containers into shops and homes.