1. If Only Your Icon Would Take This A Bit More Seriously

    Posted October 7, 2014 in user centred design  |  No Comments so far

    The other day I wanted to find out if I could move Skype credit from one account to another. If I could, I’d have been fairly happy as I’d have saved money. A quick Google found this page on the Skype website:

    Bad icons

    Yes, you did answer my question—but I’m not happy about it

    It was slightly jarring to see the happy-face icon beaming at me like a puppy seeking approval. Yes, you did answer the question, little website, but it wasn’t the answer I wanted. Can you please stop grinning?

    Sometimes the substance of an answer is more important to the reader than its clarity or precision.

  2. “If Everyone Jumped Off a Cliff…” — A New Perspective

    Posted October 3, 2014 in ephemera  |  No Comments so far

    In late 2012 I appeared on one of those comedy-panel quiz TV programmes. It didn’t get commissioned, thank god, so you won’t have heard of it. In front of the studio audience, Sara Cox cracked a joke about the graphics I’d made for my tube seat strategy post of 2011. The good news, dear reader, is that I managed to come up with a witty and suitably risqué retort. But the bad news is that it only came to me in the summer of 2014, approximately eighteen months too late.

    In the early 1980s I was in junior school. Something happened—I forget what it was—which prompted a teacher to say to me, “if everyone else jumped off a cliff, would you?”

    She didn’t expect an answer, of course, and I didn’t offer one. But last night, fully thirty years after she posed this rhetorical question to me, I finally thought of a retort. Here it is.

    “If everyone else jumped off a cliff, and I decided not to, what kind of world would be left for me, an eight-year-old child, to live in? After all, everyone else would have jumped off a cliff: my loved ones, my friends, the adults I rely on for food, wisdom and emotional support—not to mention all those others who keep society’s wheels turning.

    Yes, I might go home and, for a time, enjoy the unbounded access to toys and property offered by a landscape newly bereft of a human civilisation which had recently chosen to jump, en masse, off a cliff. But before long starvation, depression and insanity would surely begin to take their toll. How long would I last? And how lonely and drawn-out would the end be for me, when it finally came? Perhaps, then, to have jumped off that cliff, along with everyone else, might have been the best thing after all.”

    I’m sure you’ll agree that my teacher would have struggled for a comeback if my eight-year-old self had come up with that. It’s a shame it took so long to think of though. Compared to that, my Sara Cox retort was lightning fast.

  3. Possibly the most enigmatic wayfinding device ever

    Posted September 28, 2014 in ephemera  |  1 Comment so far

    While walking around my new office the other day I came across this mysterious wayfinding device.

    "You can go in one of two directions"

    “You can go in one of two directions”

    You can go left and you can also go right. But what will you find?

    Ah, now that would ruin the surprise.

  4. A track I made called “Birthday”

    Posted September 22, 2014 in music  |  No Comments so far

    I’ve been meaning to get back into making music for a while now. Here’s a track I made over the weekend, called “Birthday”. It’s been described by those in the know as “a bit Cbeebies.”

  5. Alex Salmond

    Posted September 20, 2014 in politics  |  No Comments so far

    Alex Salmond resigned as First Minister of Scotland yesterday, having failed to win the referendum on Scottish independence.

    He was fighting against the might of the Westminster establishment, the media (no newspapers supported him), the major financial institutions and the vested interests of the wealthy in this country.

    His opponents used the weapons they know best—negativity, condescension and intimidation—and did not hold back.

    Despite all this he gained the support of 45% of Scots, and a majority in Scotland’s biggest city, Glasgow, backed his vision of an independent nation in charge of its future. To have done so in the face of that level of opposition is a huge achievement, and I hope history will recognise that.

  6. The worst yes/no dialog ever

    Posted September 8, 2014 in ephemera, user centred design  |  No Comments so far

    If I was better organised and had more time to spare, I’d collect pictures of dodgy dialog boxes and probably set up a tumblr for them.

    As it is, I only take these pictures when I come across a particularly dodgy example. Here’s one.

    "Yes to abort, No to continue"

    “Yes to abort, No to continue”

    It appeared when trying to buy petrol from a self-service machine. You’re quite stressed in those situations as you sometimes have a queue of cars waiting for you to get on with it. The last thing you need is a woeful piece of design like this that forces you to lay aside your preconceived notions of what “Yes,” “No” and big red X’s actually mean.

  7. The gap is growing between London house prices and what you might call reality

    Posted February 26, 2014 in London, visualisation  |  No Comments so far

    During lunchtime, for a laugh, I downloaded this spreadsheet and made a chart from it.

    The data in the spreadsheet shows the house-price to earnings ratio for all London boroughs, from 1997 to 2013. This number tells us how affordable local property is for people who live and work in a particular area.

    In an ideal world you’d want it to be relatively stable—if property is expensive in one high-income area and cheap in another low-income area they might still have similar house-price/earnings ratios. And over time, you would want salaries and house prices to go up or down more or less together—if you wanted the affordability of property to remain constant, that is.

    Anyway, here’s the chart. You’ll need to click on it to see the full-size version.

    House price to earnings ratio in inner London boroughs

    House price to earnings ratio in inner London boroughs

    The biggest surprise for me upon making this was not so much that this ratio has grown over the years, or the fact that this growth has occurred in every borough. It’s more that the gap between boroughs has become so vast.

  8. Meeting chicken

    Posted January 17, 2014 in office  |  2 Comments so far

    You have a regular meeting in your calendar. It’s with just one other person. Sometimes you have things to talk to them about and sometimes you don’t. But as long as your calendar says you both have to go, you will both go.

    The day of the meeting comes round. There are lots of things that need to be done that day. You look at that meeting sitting obstinately in your calendar and think how useful it would be to get that time back.

    Inspiration strikes: why not cancel the meeting? A couple of mouse clicks, an automatic notification sent out, a joyously blank calendar. It seems so easy.

    But you can’t bring yourself to do it, to cancel a meeting at such short notice. It would make you look disorganised, unprepared. And what about the other person? They might have lots of important things to discuss with you. Maybe they’re really looking forward to the meeting; maybe they’ve worn smart clothes they otherwise wouldn’t have worn, or have regretfully cancelled other interesting meetings in order to have this one with you. How would they feel, if that was indeed the case, about you sending a cancellation out of the blue like that?

    So you get your head down and try to make the most of the productive time you have, although it’s hard to concentrate because you have one eye on the clock. The time is approaching when you’ll need to drop everything and go to this meeting. The meeting hasn’t even happened yet and it’s already wreaking havoc on your day.

    It’s now only five minutes until you need to leave. And, suddenly, your computer makes a bleeping noise or a swooshing noise or whatever noise it makes when you receive a new email. You look up from your keyboard.

    Meeting cancellation

    They blinked first

    Congratulations: you have just won a game of Meeting Chicken.

  9. ShareSite has finally returned

    Posted January 14, 2014 in projects, web  |  No Comments so far

    As mentioned last month, ShareSite has finally relaunched. You can find it at www.sharesite.org.uk.

    Rather than dumping the entire archive online, we’ll be publishing them one article at a time over the next few months, and in chronological order. It’ll give you a chance to relive the heady days of the dotcom boom, much like the Real Time World War 2 Twitter account.

    So the first one we’ve sent live is the first one we ever wrote – Chemical Steel shares hit by witch infestation – from 11th December 2000.

    A witch infestation can be a damning curse for any company. They present a physical hazard, knocking over apparatus and people with their brooms, swooping about the place and snagging loose clothing in delicate machinery. Additionally, they often use occult and magical techniques to purposefully sabotage a company’s showing on the stock markets, with negative spell-casting adversely affecting share prices.

    Read more over at the newly relaunched ShareSite.

  10. How to fight back against the cunning, dastardly new techniques of spam email

    Posted January 7, 2014 in office  |  1 Comment so far

    Everyone hates spam email. Do you remember when we used to get it all the time? Depraved demands for money would clog up my inbox as fast as I could delete them. What a nightmare.

    It was lucky, then, that spam filters came along and helped us win the war against spam. For many years those disgusting missives were absent from my inbox and I almost started to forget what it was like to receive one. Everything was great. Until recently.

    In the last few months, more and more of these unwanted emails have been evading my filters and infesting my inbox once again. It feels like we’re back to the dark days of spam. And the reason? The spammers have upped their game.

    One hallmark of the new generation of spam email is mimicking the writing style of colleagues and bosses. And worse still, the spammers are somehow able to make it look like they’re coming from my colleagues and bosses. It’s astounding. Here’s an early example.

    A cunningly disguised piece of spam

    A cunningly disguised piece of spam

    See how crafty this is? It just looks so authentic and it’s a lot like how my boss writes too, a far cry from the old days when it was easy to identify spam emails with all their rude words and grammatical errors. In fact I was so convinced it was real that I was about to send over the report. Luckily I realised what was going on and sent the email to the trash instead.

    But the spammers had some more tricks up their sleeve. The next wave of emails continued to sound like my workmates, but they started referring to earlier messages – “following up on my previous requests” and so on – which gave them an added sense of realism.

    I tried setting up filters to block these messages but they were too different, too diverse in their content, so I resorted to manually deleting them which was very time-consuming. It was fortunate that work had become fairly quiet, giving me several hours a day to clear out my inbox.

    Then the spammers unveiled their next trick: they started to email large PDF files, pretending they were reports for me to review.

    They think I was born yesterday

    They must think I was born yesterday

    Imagine I’d opened this spam attachment – a 7mb PDF large enough to contain millions of trojan viruses. My computer would have been so badly infected that a trip to Dignitas would have been the only option. I pressed the Delete key without hesitation.

    The attempts to infect my laptop and drain my bank account continued in earnest. PDFs, Word documents, Excel spreadsheets – the spammers flung everything they had at me. When these didn’t work, they hijacked my boss’s email again and adopted a radical new technique: they started sending meeting requests.

    I'll admit, this one nearly had me fooled

    I’ll admit, this one nearly had me fooled

    Attending a meeting with a professional spamming gang is ill-advised at the best of times. I rejected the invite, and the many others that followed, accompanying my responses with some well-chosen words in which I told the senders in no uncertain terms where to go.

    It’s not easy to fend off such persistent and innovative spammers. If you use the tips I’ve shared in this post I’m sure you’ll be safe. But now I have to stop writing – my boss is heading towards my desk and he’s looking pretty annoyed…