Category: Thoughts

Designing for apathy

Designing for apathy.

    Most people are apathetic about at least some things.   I currently work in a phone shop and I see this all the time. I’ll ask people what phone they’d like and most people either don’t care or maybe only have a brand they’d like. At first this struck me as quite strange. How could they not care about this item that was going to be with them pretty much every day for the next 2 years at least!? Then I tried to empathise more with them. They just wanted a tool that communicated with their friends and family, went on social media and took a half decent photo. After all that’s what most people use their phones for.   This is often designed for in the technology industry. The reason so much focus is placed on megapixels of a camera rather than lens quality or anything else is because its very easy to understand that 20megapixels is better than 12megapixels. It tells you very little about how the camera will actually take a picture but the user/customer can remain apathetic to it and understand which is best. The marketing teams and designers used empathy to not only understand how the user feels but also to understand that the user would feel so drastically different than someone who works within the technology industry.   Tim Brown of IDEO said that ‘Empathy is at the heart of design’ and I definitely think that’s true. (Check out his blog post here Especially when we are talking about user experience design. Taking the customers apathy into consideration allowed me to have much better conversations and sales with customers.   However, it seems the same empathy of understanding the users apathy often isn’t used when it comes to designing social change. An example I want to use is reducing plastic waste and use. We see videos and posts explaining why we should recycle or use less plastic and these are all designed with the theory that the user doesn’t know that their behaviour is damaging to the environment. Now often this is true. A great example is that episode of Blue Planet 2 where David Attenborough explain exactly how plastic was affecting our oceans. And that has had a massive impact. However all of these types of informative posts fail to empathise with one key thing. The person might just not care.   This concept seems strange to people. That there would be someone who doesn’t care that plastics are getting into the food chain, but often its true. People aren’t willing to change their behaviour that much even if they know it’s the right thing to do. These types of post and campaigns need to be designed with the users apathy in mind.   A perfect example of this is plastic straws. In the UK at least there has been a revolution in straws. There have been campaigns and videos not only explaining how bad plastic straws are but also giving alternatives. It got so big that major companies like Wetherspoons stopped plastic and now give out biodegradable or paper straws. The reason for this is because it exploits the grey area of not caring that most people have. Most people don’t care about the straw they have in their drink. SO if you offer an alternative that has such little impact on their behaviour that they don’t really notice and it makes them feel like they’re doing a good thing then you have a winning campaign.   I should say there has been some controversy over exactly how much impact plastic straws and changing them impacts the world. But I think it’s at least a start. The important thing to remember is that changing behaviour is a process and not an event. Small changes can build up to a big one. Hopefully this is one small change that shapes a bigger social change in the future. Almost training us to have eco-friendly behaviour as normal routine and slowly get out of the habit of apathy about this major issue. ​



  So you might have noticed an increase in content around here recently. I’ve finally redesigned my portfolio site and also started this blog. I’ve also started applying for design jobs again. (Which may be why you’re reading this). It’s not a coincidence that all this is happening at the same time. It’s because I re-discovered my why.   Fairly recently I was at a job interview for a web design position. And the usual questions that are asked in job interviews were being asked and I recalled my semi-prepared answers to them. But then the interviewer asked “Why are you here today?’ I was a little taken back and paused for a moment. I didn’t quite know how to answer it. I wanted to give an honest answer and so decided to tell the story of me. The first half of this basically consisted of my ‘about me’ page on the website. I told them how I got into web design and how I’d found it magical. And then I got to the section where I worked at a phone shop for 3 years. And I felt the need to justify it.   For a long time I wasn’t able to justify why I’d stayed there. And I would avoid asking myself the question entirely. But now I can justify it. Some of the magic of helping users with technology and exploring new technology myself is at my current job; but not enough.   During the interview I explained how I forgot exactly why I fell in love with design and forgot why I wanted to be a designer in the first place. And now, 3 years later I was waking up and had remembered why I loved it. I’m not entirely sure what changed but my current job wasn’t enough anymore, and I needed to create and design again.   I started with what seemed the only real thing that I should be designing. My website. I redesigned it. Using WordPress as a content management system; Partly for convenience and partly because I wanted to refresh my skills on it. I got to explore some new features of it which will definitely come in handy when I do websites in the future. This still wasn’t enough so I started a blog on the site. I brought over some blog posts that I had done in university at jotted down ideas for what I wanted to talk about in the future. It didn’t matter that no one was (or is probably) reading. I got to use CSS again and got to tinker with minor details that, in all likelihood, only I’ll notice and make banner images and use Photoshop again.   This, it seems, still isn’t enough. I want to do more. I started consuming design information again, and came across Google’s Design Sprint Kit. ( Which is a website and methodology for quick prototyping and design. This I think will be my next project.   I’m going to design a solution to a problem purely for the fun of it. Almost a concept UX solution. I’m not sure what I will aim for yet. But I’m going to use their 5-phase methodology to do it. All be it a stripped down version as I won’t have a full team and stakeholders at hand.  
  1. The Understand Phase: ‘During the Understand phase, your team comes together to explore the business problem from all angles.’
  I’m going to gather research from as many different sources as possible and gain an deeper understanding of an issue than I currently do. This will need to be both primary and secondary research as well as qualitative and quantitative.  
  1. The Sketch Phase: During the sketch phase, individual team members are given the time and space to brainstorm solutions on their own.’
  For me this will pretty much be the same. Just brain storming ideas and trying to think outside the box.  
  1. The Decide Phase: ‘The Decide phase is when the team chooses which ideas should be prototyped.’
  Here’s where I’ll narrow down my ideas into one. This is the one I will fully prototype and develop.  
  1. The Prototype Phase: ‘A design sprint prototype is a facade of the experience you have envisioned in the sketch phase.’
  This is where I’ll make my prototype that resembles the experience I am trying to give the user.  
  1. The Validate Phase: ‘The Validate phase is the Design Sprint moment of truth. Your team will finally get to see live users interact with their ideas and hear direct feedback from your target audience.’
  This is the phase where I’ll test my prototype with real users, and most importantly, record the results and feedback.     After I’ve completed this I can see how well I did o each phase based on which of the three outcomes I have made:  
  • An efficient failure : The prototypes didn’t hit the mark, but you learned something (many things) and saved your team 4-6 months of work building the wrong product. You might want to run a follow up Sprint.
  • A flawed success : Some of your ideas met users’ needs but not all of them. You learned something and can now iterate and test again.
  • An epic win: The concept met your users’ needs; they were able to complete tasks easily and engaged with all the features you mapped out. You are ready to implement!
  I’ll then write a follow up blog about how the whole thing went.   So that’s my plan. I’m not sure exactly how long it’ll take but I’m determined to get it done.

Van Gogh and Mrs Wall

Van Gogh and Mrs Wall

Recently I had a weekend away in Cardiff. I love Cardiff as a city it’s full of life and lots of little stories about its past. It’s a city where the architecture and skyline really shows off the juxtaposition between its history and its present/ future. From our apartment window we could see the white steel skeleton structure of the principality stadium and then Just beyond the old stone walls of the castle. It makes for a nice contrast and is something that is lacking in other cities. But the architecture of the city isn’t what I want to talk about here. I want to talk about a painting in the museum and my year 3 art education. In the Cardiff museum is an art gallery. And in that art gallery is a painting by Van Gogh. Specifically this painting. ‘Rain - Auvers - GOGH, Vincent van (1853 - 1890)’      I’ve obviously seen prints and images of Van Gogh‘s work before and am in no way an art expert or critic. But I’ve never seen an original until that point. It was interesting and cool. And made me think a couple things. The first was ‘is this an original or a copy?’ I checked the information plaque and it didn’t say it was a copy and then got close to the painting (which was behind thick glass) and I could see the peaks and troughs of the paint from when it was done. The second was ‘OMG how expensive is this painting?’ I googled it and it’s somewhere between $11million and $66million. I think this somehow adds to the experience of seeing it and makes it more special than just seeing a print. If for no other reason than you stop and properly look at the painting because if it's worth that much money, there has to be something in it. And the third was ‘this is what Mrs Wall was talking about when I was in year 3.' Mrs Wall was my year 3 primary school teacher. One afternoon she taught us art. This is when I first learned about Vincent Van Gogh and his paintings. Mrs Wall explained how he wasn’t just tying to paint a picture he was trying to convey some kind of emotion in his work. And that this was evident in the brush strokes that you could see on the painting. We then had a go at trying this ourselves which was an incredibly brave and messy thing to suggest to a group of 6 year olds. I didn’t really understand it at the time but the idea of conveying emotion through art stuck with me. And so that’s what I thought of when I saw the painting in real life. I’m not that big on art and so this was the first time I’d ever seen this particular painting ever. It was a landscape and fairly colourful but still sad some how. The rain that’s pouring down is a blue grey which adds to the sadness I guess but it’s not like obscuring the landscape really. There’s a single bird in the painting which I guess symbolises loneliness or something. After all this was one of the last paintings Van Gogh did before his suicide in 1890. What I find interesting about Van Gogh's work. Is the idea that he could convey emotion very easily. The fact that he is famous for his tragic life also adds context to his work and makes it a bit easier to ascertain some form of meaning from his painting. Although didn’t know about his suicide back when I was 7 and still was able to see there was something deeper in his paintings than just a pretty picture. Now although this is nice and the reason he is a popular artist you might think it has little to do with design. But conveying emotion through design is exactly what we as designers are trying to do. We are always trying to suggest things to the user and in certain designs trying to generate some kind of emotional response. Usually some kind of happiness. Through design we are trying to convey that a product is high quality, or easy to use, or matches the users personality in some way. But we are trying to convey this without outright saying it. I think this is the same thing that Van Gogh is doing with the rain and lone crow in the painting. I recently read a case study from a designer who worked on an Uber re-design back in 2016. Their whole goal was to recapture the magic of using Uber that had been lost. Through design they needed to convey that Uber was doing all the hard work (finding a car, knowing their location etc) for user. And they needed to make the user trust the app to do that. The redesign was all about communicating an idea to the user. Check out the full run down here - Although I’m still starting out on my User Experience design career I hope to be as good at conveying emotion through design as Van Gogh is, but I’d like to keep both my ears. ​

Why I hate Argos

Why I hate Argos.

So, I’m sure Argos is fine for some people and maybe other stores are ok but my experience has never been what I want it to be.
What I mean by that is that I’ve never visited an Argos and not felt like I was bumbling through the whole experience as opposed to knowing exactly what I needed to do.
So we’re on the same page when I talk through my visit; below is a not to scale map of my local store.
So I walk in and the catalogues are on my right. Till’s to my left and collection point directly ahead. There are signs from the ceilings to label these but the message gets lost in with all the promotional signs and adverts for things. So straight away there’s no obvious place that I should start but because im familiar with the store (from years of growing up circling my Christmas wish in the Argos catalogue) I know where I need to go.
I flick through the catalogue and find the item I need and write the number down on the little sheet. Again this is a process that was essentially taught from my parents and not something the store makes obvious that you need to do.
Next I have to queue of pay for my item. The queue is fairly long but that can’t really be helped. I pay and am given a ticket to collect my item. Now here is where the frustration really starts. I then have to go back through the shop, where I’ve just been, to get to the collection point. I arrive at the collection point and try and figure out if I should be at point A, B or C. These sections seem an arbitrary distinction as the products all seem to come form the same place and the same staff member is handing them to the customers. My number is quite far down the list and so another wait is needed. But there’s no queue system at the collection point. There’s a few chairs and a waiting area but no organisation. So I’m not sure where to stand or sit and if it even matters. I don’t know who’s first in the queue and how far down the list I am.
After a time my number is called. I collect my items and leave. Feeling a little lost and confused.
My issue is that there was no progress to the experience. After queuing to pay there was no fulfilment in completing that process. I was just made to queue again and this time with even less indication of how long for. It felt like a step backwards with added confusion of trying to figure out the stores internal organisation of collection point sections which had no real impact on how I got my product.
I know there’s ways where you can reserve online and then swagger in and collect your items but to me, Argos is a high street store and if I was gonna order it online I’d just get it delivered.
The question is then, what would I do to improve the experience.
I would make the experience more like checking in at an airport.
When you’re at an airport (at least a fairly well designed one) there’s obvious progress indicators through the process. You can feel yourself getting closer (physically and mentally) to the goal (boarding the plane) And generally it’s easy to see what the next step that needs to be completed.
I would redesign the store so that the tills allowed you to pass through into the waiting area as opposed to having to go back where you started.
I did a quick mock up of what I think it should look like.
This gives me (the customer) an obvious path to take. The customer is basically just going around the store in an anti-clockwise circle. Nice and simple. It also allowed for a larger waiting area and a larger ‘random items’ section. I’ve not changed anything too drastic here. I’ve basically just rearranged the furniture but with the user in mind.
So yeah. That’s my rant on why I hate Argos. Or at least why I hate my local Argos

No Service

No service.

So I'm sat on a train on the way to Bristol on a beautiful sunny Thursday afternoon. I'm on my own and I've got my music playing as the Devon hills roll past. I should be fairly content right? Except I keep losing 3G/4G on my phone.
I'm aware that this is a relatively minor 1st world problem and It's a big ask to expect 4G with nothing but fields around me. I also don't need to do anything particular on my phone, I don't need it for work and I only scrolled through Facebook and Instagram a few minutes ago at the last station but for some reason it frustrates not being connected.
Perhaps it's because it reminds me that the £600 device I have decided to keep no more than a metre away from me at all times of the day and night is almost worthless without signal. And that it's basically a glorified walkie-talkie. Like without internet almost all my apps don't work and I can't talk to people I usually would, not that I have anything to say.
I think it's the same reason that when the change the design of money it reminds us that it's just paper with drawings on and has no real value. This reminds me that I paid a lot of money for a 5.3 inch piece of glass.
It's not like it escaped my notice that I expect Internet to be ubiquitous and that, because it mostly is ubiquitous, the functionality of my phone relies on it. And on the whole that's a great thing. Taking the Internet, which is in my opinion the single greatest thing humans have ever constructed, as a given in most situations to improve the experience of using my tiny piece of glass. And I wouldn't trade it for a satellite phone or something but still.
When I was younger I had a stuffed animal called Bunny (I think he's still in a drawer somewhere). Bunny came everywhere with me and I think in my more adult life my phone has replaced him. There's been studies that said our anxiety goes up if we are separated from our devices and that's definitely true for me. There's also the fear of missing out, like what if something major is going on and I have to wait until I get to Bristol to hear about it and I'm behind the rest of the world.
All this being said having no signal can also be freeing. I put my phone down and looked out the window. The rolling hills and fields seems a treat even though they are always there if I bothered to pay attention.
There was a design project from a company called BERG that printed a kind of tour on your train ticket with landmarks to look out for and when they would appear on your journey. (Link to the video). I love this idea almost because it's non-digital but also because it's such a beautifully simple way to interact with the immediate world around us. It opens up a novel experience that people would miss because we're all staring at screens.
Now again, I love my phone but there's no reason that some of that can't be transferred to mobile. When we talk about mobile user experience we often mean how to we interact with our phones but there is this device that we have on us all the time. And when we say interact with the world we mean it in a broader context as opposed to what we can see and hear directly around us.
About 2 weeks ago I got Pokemon Go and it strikes me as an game that has got fairly close tho bridging this gap with the immediate world around us. And allowing people to explore and see things in a new light. And I hope more apps incorporate this aspect. It's also surprisingly social. Like I've had strangers come up to me and chat about the game like we're in some sort of exclusive club or God knows how many players. (I'd look it up but ya know... Signal)

Bristol Waterslide

Last summer Bristol decided to introduce a ‘make Sunday’s special’ campaign. The first of these fun Sundays was the park street water slide dubbed ‘park and slide.’ This meant closing off Park Street, a steep hill in Bristol’s city centre and construct a giant water slide down it. I love this idea and went a long to watch. I didn’t take part though as I didn’t win the lottery that was run to decide the sliders. It was a very weird experience as this road which is usually quite busy with traffic was transformed into this area for fun. It got me thinking about the interactions between people and the city. Travel: The usual way to travel up and down Park Street is either by walking (boring and slow) or driving (still boring and sometimes slower). This interaction got interrupted with the waterslide and the cars replaced with lilos. The city: There is a certain way to behave whilst in the street. This is challenged with the waterslide and it was nice not being sure how to act. The road, for one day, was converted into a playground. Each other: This made the way people interacted with each other a little different as well. People tended to be more sociable than usual and everyone seemed to be in a good mood. I think what’s so nice about the park street waterslide is what makes it so interesting. Its not trying to solve any big world problems. Its not trying to make a political statement. Its just trying to spread a little joy and to make that day a little more fun.

A Brief Rant On The Future Of Interaction Design

Here’s my reaction to This rant does make a lot of sense and as a bit of an apple fan boy anything that mocks Microsoft I generally agree with. For example I agree that the lack of interaction except ‘sliding a finger on glass’ seems unfulfilling. I also agree that everyday objects in the real world give a sense of tactile feedback that has yet to be matched by what most would call modern technology. However I do think that the video was made for the purpose of showing off and not as a proposal of what to do and where interaction design should go. The interactions in the video do seem to not be meeting potential for example the lack of actual talking. A few years ago I had a conversation with my friend about technology and communication. Her view was that technology was hindering communication specifically on public transport. I argued that most people on their phones and iPads are communicating, it just happens to be with people not on the bus/ train. She did not believe me and we dubbed this phenomenon the iPhone effect. She did not believe me because my argument lacked conviction. There is little talking to each other on public transport but I do not believe it is technology that is hindering these interactions. I believe it’s the environment itself. Rows of seats facing forward and a noisy diesel engine is not the type of setting that lends itself to socialising and meeting people. So we search for something else to do. In 2014 it’s Facebook and Twitter but in the 20th century interaction was substituted by a different kind of handheld device… The newspaper.
newspapers on a train
The idea that rich on screen visuals and tactile feedback using the hands are opposite ends of the spectrum is something I’m not sure about. I mean yes, until now we have had to make this trade off however, it may not be the case for much longer. I read an article that they are working on screens that can charge the screen through static to give the user a bit of a tingle when using it. This can be perfected into mimicking texture. Imagine running your finger across a picture of an orange on your phone and being able to feel the indentations of its skin. The current neglect of touch interactions in our ‘touch screen’ world is, I agree, a shame. However there is no reason that we can’t have both. I think that as many senses as possible should be considered when designing an interaction. What places sight above touch. And why is touch more important than smell with regards to interaction? Maybe its just because the technology to create these isn’t here yet. Hands are great. But so are noses.