UX your thinking

Hello, I’m not going to apologise for being a slack blogger, because I’m not sorry.

Anyway, I wrote a think for my employers called “UX your thinking” about how UX can be a mindset as well as a practice. You can read it here.

February 26, 2014 | Tags: , | Comments Closed

A hand has come out and taken yours

I wrote someone a letter today. An electronic one, obviously. And that reminded me of a moment – must have been a couple of years ago – when just for a second, the world caved in.

The letter was about depression. Something I have had in a number of guises and severity levels, and something which I generally live with today, unbothered except for a few dark hours. Though aware that it could change at any moment.

I don’t know the person at all who I wrote to, beyond a few basic facts about her life, and that we share a few common interests. One of those interests is BBC quiz shows and we chat sometimes about their interconnected hosts and guests. Victoria Coren (Mitchell), for example.

As I wrote to – let’s call her Julia – I recalled something Victoria Coren wrote in the Observer a few years back. It’s to do, slightly, with depression and it completely took the wind out of me. Here it is:

“Should I wait until I stop waking up in the night in tears for everything I might be screwing up in my own life, holding on to heartfelt faith but doubting my own hopeful actions and inactions, staring my errors and fears and faults and massive life-gambles in the face, praying daily that this risky, bumpy and winding path leads home, before I start judging other people?”

Those words, appearing in stark contrast to the otherwise light-hearted commentary on drugs and the Olympics spoke so instantly and deeply into the state of my own soul, that is, the state of my own wakeful nights, that even though I was in the middle of an office during a busy working day, I simply sat at my monitor and cried. Not just through sadness, but through… recognition?

Now, this blog has lain fallow for a few months, partly due to life taking over, but mostly because I’ve been having far too much fun on Tumblr. Fun laughing and fangirling and -new word coming up- shipping various combinations of fictional people who seem real and real people from whom we’ve extrapolated so much they’ve basically become fiction. I love tumblr, life ruiner though it is.

Shall I tell you who I talk about most? It’s, in no particular order: Stephen Fry; Manic Street Preachers; Victoria Coren/David Mitchell; the BBC in general; Brideshead Revisited; Sherlock; Cabin Pressure; Monty Python… A collection of smart funny people whose public work I enjoy and whose private life I probably pay a bit too much attention to. And writing, music and books.

But, and here’s the point (FINALLY, you all cry), although I collect comedians, it’s not because they’re funny. Funny, I like. But things to knit my soul to… They come in the deeper moments, born when the darkness seems to sparkle. Moments, like the one above, when it feels as someone has been staring right into my very being, and shown me the reflection.

Here’s another one of those moments, which had the same flooring effect, and also makes the point far better than I can. From Alan Bennett’s diaries:

“The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours”.

That’s when I fangirl the most. Except in those moments I’m not fangirling or shipping, I’m holding onto something, anything, for dear life because it feels as if someone has simultaneously given me the world and snatched the rug from under my feet.

And, back to depression, it’s these moments that in part – I would not wish to do disservice to the friends, family, faith and prayers that also carry me daily – that get me through. The knowledge that I am not alone, and the wider narrative of their lives which indicates that this black dog is neither all nor everything. A reminder that the sun does come. So when I say ‘I like Victoria Coren’ or ‘Alan Bennett’s a really great writer’, I do mean it, but what I also mean is: thank you.

Living in a new world, living in the past

Microsoft are finally fully switching Hotmail over to Outlook.com. I still have a hotmail address but I haven’t been moved yet.

I do want to keep my hotmail address. I only use it as a spam repository these days, having moved all my professional functions over to Google. But I’m horribly attached to the name. I’ve had it since I was a teenager, obsessed with Queen and entirely unaware that whatever handle I chose would still be chasing me around the web 15 years later.

In those days of the internet I chose all my usernames and handles based on my inner identity rather than my external name. Fun and anonymity were encouraged and expected. It’s why in the Manics fan world I’m still known as Terminal Young Thing – a handle I picked because I was young, forgetting that one day I may be older, may be wiser. At one point I considered selected a new handle but I realised that the full lyric I’m gonna stay a terminal young thing from Methadone Pretty forbade such a change. So it stuck, and little TYT is still a large part of my online and inner identity.

But that came later. This email address predates even manicsfandom. I picked it because I wanted a Queen-based identity, but one that was female. There aren’t many. Lady Mercy would have been an obvious candidate but I didn’t like it, and anyway, I think it was taken. For a while I used brian_may39 until I realised that it was one thing to use a moniker for an ID, but another thing entirely to use someone else’s name.

In the end I picked a line from The Fairy-Feller’s Master Stroke. I didn’t like the song that much, I didn’t get any of the mythology references, or care for the art that inspired it. I just wanted a girl’s name. So I became The Nymph In Yellow. It formed the basis of my email address and several other online IDs. It was cumbersome to write and embarrassing to spell out but by the time it had outrun its cuteness, it was attached to too much of the internet to easily move.

The painting that inspired and song that inspired an online life

A couple of years ago, I gave it the slip and created an ‘grown up’ email address. Again I considered closing my antiquated hotmail name, but this I kept it for the past, and for the future. I little knew, aged 13, what a teenager and adult I would become or what my tastes would be in music, books, films and people. Which is why, when I hear the full lyric I can’t help but smile:

Fairy dandy tickling the fancy
Of his lady friend
The nymph in yellow

Fairy dandy. Bowie, Brett, Bernard, Wire, Wilde, Wodehouse, Waugh, all the other Ws on the www dot.

Seems I did know myself after all, half a life time ago.

This week, Stockholm!

In praise of Norwegian, a budget airline company who flew me to Stockholm and back this weekend.

The whole experience was great compared with other budgets carriers, in the general sense that they didn’t actively obstruct every part of my journey with overzealous process, demands for money, or both. They were just, you know, nice and pleasant. Respectful rather than implying things would be a whole lot smoother if I wasn’t there at all. You all know who I mean – and there is more than one of the them – and have enjoyed many hours in their capable hands, I am sure.

Anyway, Norwegian, as well as being decent people also had on-board WiFi. Maybe this is a thing on proper long-distance international flights but I’d not come across it before. So I took great pleasure in telling Twitter and Tumblr that I was 10,000 metres high and IN THE FUTURE.

And not only was there WiFi, but it worked. And by worked I mean it didn’t do any of the following:
- require me to register, or fill in any personal details, at all;
- take minutes to load a single page;
- cap me in any meaningful sense.

All of which are common features of free WiFi on the ground.

OK, there were a couple of issues. It struggled a bit with some https sites because the authentication process got disrupted. Email worked, twitter website struggled but the app worked. And, naturally, it blocks streaming sites like iPlayer but I expect that on a volatile signal. It also blocked Victoria Coren’s website – was it the gambling or the pr0n that triggered it, I wonder? – but let’s be honest, that’s hardly crucial mid-flight viewing, even for me.

On the way home I wanted to see if it kept the same standards. It did. The signal was a little flaky. It probably worked about 75% of the time, but I can’t begrudge them that, being in the clouds and all. (I wonder if it was connecting via the cloud, ho ho ho shut up.)

I also spent more time on their web portal and that’s when it went from a pretty good experience to impressive. It’s the little things. In some situations having a machine follow you across the north sea might be considered a touch intrusive. But when you’re in a metal cupboard in the sky (that description © John Finnemore) and ultimately desiring little more than to be back on the ground, then it’s rather sweet.

Here’s where I am on my journey:

And here’s my specific flight status. 45 minutes to go before we arrive in a rainy London. Although, that weather report could just be static text. Either way, the tiny considerations like that were what made it.

Like I said at the beginning, it’s not just that they had working WiFi, it’s that the whole experience was thoughtful. They could have really hashed this up and I would have still used it, in a grump, bemoaning the fact I was supposed to be on holiday but even though I’m 10,000 metres in the air I still can’t stop swearing at computers. But it wasn’t like that. The whole experience was so gentle and intuitive, it made me want to tell everyone about it.

One final point. See the bottom half of that second screenshot? That’s a video on demand service. It’s early days; there are very few programmes and it’s just on a trial basis, but – it is the future, isn’t it?

Hanging on

A conversation in the work kitchen this morning:

Colleague: What did you do this weekend?
Me: I un-hung a door.
C: Why?
Me: It was in the way.
C: Isn’t that sort of the point of a door? To be in the way? Between you and the other room?

And well, yes. It is. But it’s also the point of a door to open more than 45 degrees without being hindered by a bed. Strictly I suppose the bed was in the way, but the bed is less movable. And I need a bed. I don’t need a door in front of a closet. Especially as the closet will soon be a micro library.

I was going to put the door under above obstructive bed but the handles are not the detachable sort, so it wouldn’t fit. Instead it’s behind my desk doubling as an impromptu notice board and a ‘unique bijou feature’. I think that’s the term. It was a bit of a struggle to move the unhinged door but I managed it without injury. Just. Doors, you will be shocked to hear, are heavy.

I have such DIY plans for my tiny tiny bedroom.

I assembled the desk last week, without any of the necessary equipment. It turns out that although an instruction manual claims you will need a screwdriver, a second person and a hammer, in fact all you need is a pair of scissors, a stack of books and sheer bloody will. Incidentally, this is not the first time I have used books as a substitute for a person, and I doubt it will be the last.

*assumes some kind of Keatsian pose, exits stage left*

I’m sorry, I’ll read that again.

So, nearly three months after I carelessly clicked ‘upgrade’ from my hosting console rather than WordPress itself, causing the CMS to go up in flames, I return!

It didn’t take long to fix in the end, once I’d located the problem.

Thing is, I’m a little bit sad it didn’t die. I didn’t want to leave a website hanging, but properly whacking in the HTML googlies would have been a relief.

I want, need and should start from scratch. I want to re-think, re-architect and reconsider what I put here. I’ve got all my content backed up so a dead website would have been just the trigger.

On the other hand, the last thing I need right now is yet another project.

I’m already building two websites for others, and desperately, desperately trying to write a book, and the workload is sucking all the love out of it.

In the last three months I’ve also moved house three times, across three cities, so y’know, forgive me if I’m not full of whimsical anecdotes right now.

Baby steps. I will not be tested beyond my ability. That’s the promise. Don’t forget to look up.

*klaxon* New hero *klaxon*

Excited, poorly edit post below.

Tommy Flowers was an engineer who worked for Bletchley Park during World War II. Along with people like Alan Turing he was instrumental in developing machines which could decipher German messages.

Previously message deciphering had been done largely by hand, but by WWII the ciphering techniques had become to complicated. Machines were needed, and Flowers invented Colossus, a valve-based semi-programmable computer which was the size of a small room.

His work lead to modern computer science techniques and the very computer you’re reading this on now. He should be famous but because of war time secrecy he was instructed to keep silent. Credit instead goes to post-war developments from America.

After the war Flowers sought a bank loan to redevelop Colossus but was refused because bank mangers didn’t believe that the system could work.

The most bitter-sweet part of the tale comes towards the end of his life. Long-forgotten by computer history, Flowers bought a home PC. He struggled to used it and so enrolled on a college course to learn more. The picture shows his course certificate, proudly displaying that Flowers was now proficient in DBase 3+, Excel and Paint.


Proper hero, Tommy, I love you. And thanks, from the bottom of my laptop.

More info: http://www.bletchleypark.org.uk/content/museum/tour24.rhtm

The centre cannot hold

I am seriously wondering about this site.

What’s it for? I mean, I have to have a website, right? I design for the web. My livelihood depends on me understanding, persuing and changing this very environment, as it leaks into mobile, TV, device indepedent, responsively designed what next areas?

So it would be remiss of me as a practioner not to be here. And also, I like the internet. Of course I’m here. But here, this domain, this URL doesn’t really matter anymore.

Here’s two statements I regularly make to clients.
1. People won’t come to your site just because it’s there.
2. Good content travels.

Now, I know that most of the hits this blog gets are from Facebook. I also know that most of the people I have on facebook don’t really care about the nitty gritty of UX. Which means, in all honesty, that my semi-regular ‘professional’ posts don’t serve much purpose except to be marginally reassuring should I need to apply for a job and someone bothers to do a background check.

I used to post a lot more about the books, music and films I was in to, but I moved all that to Tumblr, because (a) it has readership and (b)it makes this place look more professional in its absense.

And of course, I’m on twitter. In fact, I’m anywhere but here.

So if I’m not here, why will people come? And even if I write the best blog post ever, no one will see it so there’s no chance of it travelling and hits arriving from secondary sources. That’s happened to me once, with my dodgy illustrations of Brett Anderson lyrics.

A new plan then: to write not for this website, but for two seperate Tumblrs. One will be UX focused, the other my existing fangirl one. I might set up a third one for more thoughtful/faith-based posts, but not yet. I’ll aim for one post a week, then two. Discipline, then frequency. I’ll copy stuff here, because the one thing it does have is permanence.

But the strategy has changed. This site is an archive. It is not where I live.

September 17, 2012 | Comments Closed

I am an artist now

Common perceptions of life in a creative agency.

Click for needlessly huge version.

(disclaimer: I am not an artist, and not as harsh on my colleagues as that picture makes out.)

September 7, 2012 | Comments Closed

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