1. 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.


  2. Prepare for financial enlightenment – the return of Sharesite is nigh

    Posted December 17, 2013 in projects  |  2 Comments so far

    At the height of the dotcom boom, soon after the turn of the millennium, everyone was desperate to cash in. It seemed as though new websites were being launched every day covering technology, media, telecoms, finance – anything that could help the publisher get a piece of the new gold rush.

    Of course some of these were what the jargon of the time might have termed “passion plays”, which, loosely translated, meant things people did because they actually cared. Others were the work of cynical opportunists driven by nothing but naked greed. One such site was the short-lived, money-obsessed financial news outlet called Sharesite.

    Why do I feel able to slander Sharesite and its proprietors in this way? The answer is simple – I was one of them. And you want to know something else? In 2014, we’re bringing Sharesite back.

    Employees of the Financial Times or the Wall Street Journal need not panic, however, because Sharesite was a spoof website and none of the things it described ever actually happened. I set it up along with another ex-FT employee in late 2000, inspired – obviously – by the Onion, and it enjoyed some modest success for a few years until we forgot to renew the domain name and the project came to a prosaic end.

    Sharesite reporters covered such market-moving stories as the physical collapse of an American high-tech stock exchange, Germany’s innovative nocturnal currency, and a PR stunt that backfired on a London trading floor with macabre results. While a lot of the content was very much of its time – especially our coverage of the dotcom crash – some articles were almost eerily prescient. I’d say more but I don’t want to give too much away.

    There were no proper archives of Sharesite’s content, so we’ve had to dig through the Wayback Machine and painstakingly extract all of the old articles. Some other material has been recovered from web forums, blogs and other places where it was reposted and shared. This exercise in web archaeology now complete, we’ll soon start bringing Sharesite back online as well as jumping on the social media bandwagon with aplomb – well, as much aplomb as it takes to set up a Twitter account.

    As soon as Sharesite is live again I’ll “share” the details here so start preparing to experience financial enlightenment. Just try not to make any investment decisions in the meantime.


  3. Mapping out the distance covered by my baby son

    Posted January 28, 2013 in projects  |  No Comments so far

    In the early days of my son Aidan’s life, his mum Cathy & I kept a log of pretty much everything he did. I can, for example, tell you his first audible fart occurred when he was precisely 7 hours and 9 minutes old. This obsessive note-taking didn’t last, however. Its usefulness faded as we adjusted to the relentless rhythms of parenthood, so we forgot about our log and worried instead about the fortnightly baby-weighing sessions and their nervewracking scatterplot diagrams. We no longer updated Evernote after every burp and fart.

    But there was one piece of data that I kept tracking, and it had nothing to do with his bodily functions. Whenever we took Aidan further away from his birthplace than he’d yet to travel in a particular compass direction, I’d keep a note of the time and place and save it for posterity.

    At first I wasn’t sure what to do with this information. Maybe it’d be of interest to Aidan when he was older. Maybe it’d help us identify holiday destinations if, say, we wanted to push back his western frontier one year. Yet all these ideas seemed kind of long-term and I wanted to do something now. Then it struck me – I should turn the data into posters.

    And so a project was born: every December, I’d make a poster-sized infographic to depict the extent of Aidan’s travels in that year. Here are the first two, which can be viewed in more detail if you click on them:

    Aidan's geographical extremes in 2011

    Aidan’s geographical extremes in 2011

    Aidan's geographical extremes in 2012

    Aidan’s geographical extremes in 2012

    You can probably tell, but the 2012 poster was the first one I made. Aidan was only around for the final three weeks of 2011 and didn’t travel very far, so I had expected it would be the more boring map, but as it turned out the London street map made for a more interesting backdrop and I just think it works better.

    The process of making these posters wasn’t just fun, it was educational too. As well as the usual design challenges, there was also the surprisingly fiddly job of getting the geophysical data in order. Embarrassingly enough, I started out under the impression that lat/long co-ordinates could be mapped directly to geographical distance: an approach that would have worked out well if the Earth was flat, but because it’s actually globular I ran into a dead end and had to start over.

    With that sorted out, I’ll hopefully be able to create new posters each year without shameful cosmological misconceptions getting in the way. If they’re interesting I’ll share them here – but as for that data about his early pooing habits? I’m sorry, but some things are better left unshared.


  4. Rawnet on web usability

    Posted September 9, 2008 in projects  |  2 Comments so far

    I don’t take issue with the broad thrust of Rawnet’s 2008 conversion report, which found that 78% of respondents had been put off companies or services by poor web usability. However, I do take issue with the quote from Adam Smith, their managing director:

    “companies are losing out on a massive amount of potential business simply because their current web design agency has either focused too much on what looks great, or too much on non-essential technical features…”

    This quote paints a misleading picture of web agencies working in isolation, free of input or direction from clients, who are in turn innocent victims who have unusable and design-heavy sites inflicted upon them. In practise, however, this very rarely happens. Clients tend to be deeply involved with the design process and must therefore assume ultimate responsibility for the successes and failures of their websites.

    Why is this? Well, firstly, responsibility lies with the client because the client decides which agency to commission. The client decides scope, budget and timescales, and goes on to exercise power of sign-off on all major deliverables. And rightly so.

    Why rightly so? Well, it’s not just due to the fact that they know their business and their customers more than the agency does. It’s also because it’s their business that will ultimately be impacted by the quality of the delivered site. If it’s successful, it will contribute to the growth of their business. If it fails, their business will suffer and customers will not express their dissatisfaction with the agency but instead with the company itself. So the fact that the client’s bottom line is at stake is a very compelling motivator for their wanting to be involved.

    In my experience (although not on every project), agencies tend to put forward ideas for sites which are informed by an understanding of things like usability and accessibility. Clients approach web projects from various perspectives but chiefly from those of marketing and branding.

    Most successful web projects result from a productive synthesis of these two sets of interests, and any implication that clients aren’t involved in the process—and therefore aren’t responsible when things go wrong—is highly inaccurate.


  5. Image Source – redesigned website live

    Posted September 1, 2008 in projects, web  |  2 Comments so far

    Since October 2007 I’ve been working on a redesign project for Image Source, a stock photo provider not unlike Getty Images or Corbis. The site went live last night.

    My company was initially hired to help flesh out the information architecture and design concepts. The central aim of the project was to build something that functioned more like a software application than a straightforward website, but without using Flash or Java. We went on to produce detailed specifications, site maps, activity flows and the full visual design for the site.

    http://www.imagesource.com/IS/C.aspx?VP3=Renderer_VPage&ID=IS0P8

    One of the design principles was that “image is king” – the interface design needed to be clean and minimal so as not to stand between the user and the site’s images. The above homepage screenshot gives a sense of how we achieved this.

    The new site also makes use of horizontal scrolling, which is quite a radical departure from convention.

    http://www.imagesource.com/

    We were engaged to carry out over forty user testing sessions in Cologne and London to validate this concept and ensure that users wouldn’t find it too baffling. I conducted these sessions myself and went on to produce the analysis document that led to a series of final refinements being made.

    From a technical point of view the project has been really ambitious. If you work in web presentation technologies, I urge you to go and have a play – I think you’ll be impressed with the quality of the coding and the adaptibility of the interface. The company that built the site, Orange Logic, did an amazing job. When we were handing over the functional specification back in November 2007, I was worried that the site was just too complex to be delivered without resorting to Flash. I’m glad to have been proved wrong!


  6. I’ve seen the future and it’s… a bit like MacOS X

    Posted August 11, 2008 in projects, user centred design, web  |  No Comments so far

    My friend Lindsey sent me this link earlier on today. It’s a video exploring a future user experience concept, developed by Adaptive Path for Mozilla Labs.

    http://www.vimeo.com/1450211

    Jill looks at the New York Times website

    In the video Jill, the principal user, makes use of a number of futuristic interface devices to:

    • Interact with a friend while browsing
    • Extract and manipulate data sets from within websites
    • Navigate through a vast collection of bookmarks using a 3D interface
    • Migrate her browsing experience seamlessly from desktop to mobile devices
    http://www.vimeo.com/1450211

    It’s a bit like MacOS X

    I initially found myself wondering, is the future really going to look so much like Mac OS X? But looking past the visual treatment, there are some strong concepts here. I particularly like the ability to extract and manipulate data from web pages, the near-removal of the browser interface, and the utilisation of the 3D interface to convey the age of bookmarks.

    That said, not everyone agrees with me – I’ve had a few conversations today about these ideas and there isn’t really a consensus among the people I’ve been talking to.

    http://www.vimeo.com/1450211

    The Z-axis is used to convey the age of a bookmark

    Is 3D ever really going to enter the mainstream as a means of web navigation? I’ve always been quite sceptical, to be honest. It comes down to incentive – if there’s a serious benefit to be had from learning unfamiliar and complex interfaces, then people will do it. People learnt how to use Myspace, after all!

    So, what would have to happen to make us want to learn new, complicated, 3D web interfaces?

    Well, the web (along with our own slice of it; our bookmarks, our browsing histories, our social networks etc) is on its way to becoming unmanageably large. Past a certain point, there may be a real benefit in migrating to more sophisticated – but more complex – interfaces.

    The standard methods of searching and browsing may still be usable, but woefully inefficient; like running a modern computer with only a command line interface and no GUI. Achievable, but insane.

    The web is growing exponentially – its size in five or ten years’ time could present us with unique problems and challenges. Some of the ideas in this concept video shed some light on how we might solve them. But what are those problems and challenges going to be? I’m probably more interested in them than I am in the solutions.


  7. Word clouds and silver linings

    Posted July 14, 2008 in projects, research  |  No Comments so far

    Recently I carried out some user testing on a late-beta website. At the end of each test session, participants were given a piece of paper listing over 100 adjectives – both positive and negative – and asked to tick the ones most applicable to the website they’d been using.

    As the week of testing came to a close, it was possible to flick through the responses and get a sense of what adjectives were the most popular. However, it was less easy to convey this to the client in summary form.

    Of the 100 options available, just over 30 had been chosen by at least one participant, meaning that rendering the results of the survey as a bar or pie chart would be at best inelegant and at worst unintelligible. And I couldn’t chop the least popular choices just to present a simple overview, as this would skew the data and paint an artificially positive picture of how the participants had responded to the site.

    In the end I drew the results of the survey using a “word cloud” model. If you’ve used, well, the internet in the last couple of years you’ll have seen these (although the term itself may not be so familiar!). Each adjective that had been chosen at least once was displayed in the ‘cloud’, and its text size was determined by how many participants had chosen it. This meant that the most popular options stood out clearly and the less popular options, although less visible, were still legible if the diagram was studied closely.

    The resulting cloud met with a positive reception when presented to the client and helped to provide a quick and effective summary of the test sessions, especially useful for people in senior management who didn’t have time to go through the detailed analysis of the tests.

    Although I used Visio to create the cloud, there are a number of tools online that can be used to quickly generate word clouds of your own. Wordle, at http://www.wordle.com, is the one I’d most recommend.

    I’m not convinced that they’re always useful but you never know when you’ll end up in a situation where a word cloud might come in handy.