1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. Your journey to the future

    Posted November 5, 2013 in ephemera, Photos  |  No Comments so far

    Your journey to the future

    You’d think they could have at least laid on a bus replacement service.

  4. Procrastination

    Posted September 12, 2013 in ephemera  |  No Comments so far

    Earlier this morning I found myself writing a long, waffly comment on Facebook. As I typed out the final sentence a question struck me: why am I writing this? It’s not as though more than four people will ever read it, and Facebook – an “ever-burning fire of our memories” – is not the place to store such ponderings for posterity. So why bother?

    Then I remembered – there is a reason why I’m writing long comments on Facebook…


    …I have absolutely loads of work to do.

  5. Some photos of nicely designed house signs in Fowey

    Posted September 6, 2013 in ephemera, Photos  |  No Comments so far

    We recently went on holiday to Fowey in Cornwall. It’s a bit hilly and out of the way but it’s a gorgeous place. This is the view from the house we stayed in:

    Looking across the bay


    While we were there, we noticed nice signs on some of the houses which seem to have been designed and made in the same place. We took photos of them and I thought I’d post them here.

    18 Harbourside


    In 18 Harbourside you can see the hallmarks of this sign-maker, with the scorched-clay cream and terracotta colours and concentric circles emanating from the centre. The designer’s interest in typography is also evident. The font reminded us of the famous Computer typeface, but that might not have been intentional.

    The famous Computer font

    That famous Computer font in full (sort of)

    This next one is the first example of the boat motif appearing in these signs. Fowey is a harbour town so boats are a bit of a thing there.

    23 Beam Reach

    Again, lots of attention has been paid to the typeface, which is a block Roman with slightly sloping serifs. Staring at it long enough you start to see some imperfections in how the type is laid out, but that’s to be expected as this wasn’t done in Photoshop.

    Here’s the smallest and most boring one.

    Number 38BWe spotted it towards the end of the trip, after we’d seen all the other signs, and only photographed it because we recognised the style. If I’d walked past this sign on its own I don’t think I’d have given it a second glance. It’s still a nice sign though, especially the style of the numbers, although the “B” sits a little too low.

    So now we’ve got 38B out of the way let’s move on to the last two which, you’ll be pleased to hear, both feature boats.

    Number 45

    Number 45 is quite a simple and compact arrangement with only three elements: the number, the boat, and a couple of squiggles representing the sea. The style of the numbers is a bit more distinctive than in the previous signs where the designer seemed to be using other typefaces as a template. He or she seems to be discovering a form of their own, which is nice to see.

    As good as it is though, number 45 is a test run for the best of the bunch: number 53.

    Number 53

    The chef d’oeuvre

    This sign wins on every score. Firstly, the concentric circle effect has been toned down – it’s still there, part of the sign-maker’s design language, but it’s not in your face like  on 23 Beam Reach and it doesn’t do any fancy spiralling like on 18 Harbourside.

    Secondly, the composition, with the boat centred above the numbers and the mast lining up with the left hand side of the 5. There’s a lot of empty space in the sign but it’s being put to work by how well the sign is laid out.

    Thirdly, the design of the boat itself. If you ask me it has more character: a ‘working’ boat, unlike the others which look like yachts for leisure. I know nothing about boats though so maybe you shouldn’t ask me.

    And then finally there’s the numbering, which takes the distinctive, personal style of number 45 above to the next level. It has some similarities to Souvenir, a classic 1970s typeface (from 1914, natch) but it really has its own personality.

    Next time we go to Fowey I’m going to try to find more of these signs and to figure out where they come from. In the meantime I’ve created a set on Flickr with the photos above. If you know anything about them, leave a comment!

  6. Sorry BBC, you can’t actually live on £1 of food per day

    Posted May 1, 2013 in ephemera  |  2 Comments so far

    Last week an article appeared on the BBC news site with the headline “How to eat healthily on £1 a day“.

    A cynic might say that the article set out to alleviate the guilt of wealthier people about the hardships endured by the poor, and to provide an answer to the ludicrous public debate about whether someone can actually live on £53 per week. After all, if you can eat healthily on £1 a day, what could all these people who are having their benefits cut possibly be moaning about?

    But wait! A detailed takedown of the article posted at Aethelread the Unread appears to support an alternative conclusion, namely that it is in fact a load of codswallop.

    The big problem is that the writer, Brian Milligan, is pricing his food items in a completely unrealistic way, with individual leafs of lettuce, say, coming in at 4p. Now I can remember being at school and hearing how some of my wayward colleagues were able to buy individual cigarettes for 20p as opposed to entire packets for £2, but the last I checked this sort of thing wasn’t going on in supermarkets. Surely Milligan wasn’t able to go into a shop, hand over 4p, then walk away with a lettuce leaf? Surely he actually has to spend a lot more than that to acquire a whole lettuce? This kind of erroneous calculation appears throughout the entire piece:

    A 50g can of anchovies costing 79p is factored into his budget at 16p for 10g, and the remaining 40g simply vanish. Or perhaps he feeds them to a magical cat that defecates coins to the value of the food it eats – that’s one way of explaining how he doesn’t have to account for the money he spends on food he doesn’t eat.

    All in all the amount he would really have spent works out at just under £40, nearly 8 times his original budget. I recommend you go read the entire thing, it’s a brilliant expose of a misleading and insidious piece of journamalism.

  7. On the demise of Google Reader

    Posted March 14, 2013 in ephemera  |  No Comments so far

    So Google is shutting down Google Reader as of July 1st 2013.

    We know Reader has a devoted following who will be very sad to see it go. We’re sad too.

    As someone who uses Google Reader pretty heavily (54,770 items read since April 17th 2006) this isn’t great news. But it’s not as bad as it could be: this post from Feedly was exactly what I, and I guess many other Readers users, needed to hear earlier on today:

    Google announced today that they will be shutting down Google Reader. This is something we have been expecting for some time: We have been working on a project called Normandy which is a feedly clone of the Google Reader API… When Google Reader shuts down, feedly will seamlessly transition to the Normandy back end.

    With people like Feedly preparing to step up when Google steps down, it looks like the asteroid hurtling towards Planet RSS will be obliterated or diverted and cast off harmlessly into space. So we can all breathe a sigh of relief about that.


    Given that this is the internet and everyone has to have an opinion about Google Reader shutting down, here’s mine.

    I think Google has a right to do what it wants with its products, so if they want to shut it down then fair enough. As a user of Google Reader however I have a right to be annoyed that it’s closing down. In my line of work the phrase “put the user first” is something of a mantra, so while I’m tempted to stroke my chin and consider this from Google’s perspective as a question of strategic resource deployment or whatever I’m going to approach it instead from the user’s perspective – my perspective – and give Google a thumbs down on this one. Bring back Google Reader you scoundrels! And so on.

    I bet Larry Page is quaking in his boots.

  8. Never choose the wrong seat at a restaurant again

    Posted March 13, 2013 in ephemera, strategy  |  No Comments so far

    You and a group of colleagues or friends arrive at a restaurant and are shown to your table. You now have a split second to make a decision that could make or break your evening: which seat position do you grab?

    Thankfully Alex Cornell has written a handy visual guide to help you make the right choice, thereby avoiding the need to spend the whole meal sat next to the dullest conversationalist or in a place where you can barely hear what your fellow diners are discussing.

    Here’s an excerpt:

    6 Person Circle: How loud the restaurant is determines how important it is that you claim a middle seat. A quiet space allows for cross-table diagnoal talking, and generally one conversation. A loud space however forces multiple conversations and less diagonal.

    Now go over to Alex’s site and read the whole thing.

  9. I think I agree with Google on this one

    Posted February 5, 2013 in ephemera  |  No Comments so far

    “This site may be compromised”…

    This site may be compromised

    Thanks Google, I would never have guessed!

  10. Man spends 7 years drawing a maze

    Posted February 1, 2013 in ephemera, mind mapping, visualisation  |  No Comments so far

    Japanese Twitter user @Kya7y has shared a highly intricate maze that her dad spent 7 years drawing. To read about it in English head over to Spoon & Tamago:

    Some people have hobbies. Other people are obsessive… @Kya7y recently unearthed an incredibly detailed maze that her father created almost 30 years ago. When pressed for details, the father explained that he spent 7 years creating the map on A1 size paper, which is about 33 x 23 inches.

    Here’s just one picture of the maze – read the full article for more.

    Photo of maze, from Spoon & Tamago

    Photo of maze, from Spoon & Tamago

    From a distance it looks like the street plan of a city located on a comically overpopulated alien planet, but as you descend from its upper atmosphere and approach street level a different feel emerges: organic, messy, neural, brainlike, obviously human. A feel it wouldn’t have if it had been made on a computer. You can’t help but be impressed at the level of detail, the dedication and the craftsmanship that went into creating it.

    The sensation it leaves me with is a bit like looking into another person’s mind as they drift off to sleep and dream-thoughts start warping the linear flow of waking consciousness. So I’m left wondering. Is it best understood as a maze, or as a streetmap of its creator’s mind?