All articles

Published on 20 February 2018 | 2 minute read What can Baloo teach us about design?

The idea of design-reuse has been around for many years. Walt Disney reused many scenes. They also reused entire characters. Cartoon creators called this reanimation. It's the process of tracing over existing frames to save time and money.

You may not have noticed before, but Disney's Baloo and Little John are almost identical. They were even voiced by the same person, Phil Harris.

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Published on 19 February 2018 | 3 minute read Mental health and flexible working hours

When I first started working for Government, I found flexi-time awkward. Until this point, my entire career had been fixed working patterns and strict start times. If I was 1 minute late, my boss would dock my wages by 15 minutes. So, it seemed alien to me to have any flexibility at all.

Because bad organisations had conditioned me for over a decade, I thought there must be a catch. I assumed it was one of those things where people say one thing but mean another. I thought if I came in 30 minutes late people would act fine to my face, but there would be a secret strike against my name. If I chalked up enough strikes I'd get disciplined. The last place I worked loved this secret strike system!

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Published on 15 February 2018 | 3 minute read Validation for prototypes

The plugin went down well. At least, it did, until the GOVUK frontend styles got updated. Since then, a dozen or so people have tried to use the plugin but found it doesn't work anymore. It's been sat in my Trello board of to-do's for the best part of a year.

The thing is, I thought I built the plugin off the back of a user need, and I was happy when people praised my work. But in reality, I think I missed the point. As did everybody that used it.

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Published on 26 January 2018 | 3 minute read I've stopped calling myself vegan

My new years resolution for 2017 was to move on from vegetarian and to become a legitimate vegan. Now, 12 months later, my new years resolution for 2018 is to no longer call myself a vegan at all.

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Published on 22 November 2017 | 2 minute read Own your Alpha

In Government our digital services get assessed at each stage of their journey. From Discovery into Alpha. Alpha through Beta. And Beta into Live. Every service that ends up on GOVUK will have to go through this. Each one assessed against the service standard for Government.

A panel of trained assessors will conduct the assessment. Each panel member from a different discipline within digital. The panel will cover the team setup. Their design and research, and their chosen technology stack.

From my time as an assessor, I've noticed teams don't always conduct Alphas correctly.

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Published on 10 October 2017 | 2 minute read Semantics and accessibility

As designers, we always like to put our stamp on things. We like to make things fancy and show off our full range of talents. Then when we come to code them up, we float things right. We use absolute positioning. We style links to look like buttons. We use fancy hover states and chuck in break tags in to create whitespace. Then we marvel at how pretty our designs look. After all, as long as it looks good, that's all that matters. Right?

Well, not exactly.

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Published on 27 September 2017 | 3 minute read Accessibility is not an edge case

There's a common misconception that people using assistive technologies are an edge case. That they fall into that 1% where people disable Javascript. But, this couldn't be further from the truth.

I'm going to show you why it's important to make your website accessible.

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Published on 22 August 2017 | 3 minute read Bug fixes and performance improvements

On my iPhone, I don't have automatic updates turned on. I'm that guy that likes to read the release notes. Or, at least, I was.

Release notes used to be interesting. They'd tell you what the developers had been up to. What features they were adding, or removing. But the most important thing they brought was the ability to make an informed decision. They gave you the chance to decide whether you actually wanted to install it.

Companies such as Slack and Monzo have fun with their release notes. They're proud to show you the new features they've been working hard on. But these two companies are becoming part of a minority. A small group of companies that actually bother to write anything.

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Published on 20 August 2017 | 5 minute read How to calculate reading time, like Medium

Recently, I took a leaf out of Medium's book and decided to add the estimated reading time to my blog posts. This was so that people could decide whether they had enough time to commit to the post before reading it.

The task was pretty simple. It was only 7 lines of Javascript. I wrote it and implemented it in a single train journey to Leeds.

When I tweeted about it, I got a request to write an explanation of the code. So here it goes!

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Published on 16 August 2017 | 2 minute read Design is not art

Design and art go hand in hand. But they're not the same thing.

When I was younger, I identified as a graphic designer. I'd design logos and flyers for nightclubs in Newcastle. When you're doing this kind of thing, the lines between art and design blur a lot. I didn't know the difference.

I'd combine art with principles such as the golden ratio, irradiation phenomenon and overshoot. I'd pick typefaces to best represent the brand of the company I was designing for. There was some science to it, but it was still open to opinion. Somebody could still decide they didn't like my work. And clients often did.

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Published on 14 August 2017 | 2 minute read Death of the notes box

As a designer, it's not my job to design the things people want. It's my job to design the things they need.

When you work in Government, you see a lot of legacy systems. These are ancient beasts, built off the back of corporate I.T contracts decades ago.

They're clunky, and we're unable to make changes. UX wasn't even a thing back then. The interfaces range from what looks like Teletext to an Excel spreadsheet. The font size is about 6px, because any screen resolution over 640px was unheard of when they were built.

There's a lot these systems have to answer for. But one of my biggest gripes is the culture of 'note-box enthusiasts' these systems have created.

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Published on 7 August 2017 | 6 minute read Error messages are not funny

I’m at that age now where all my friends are into having babies. Because of this, I ended up browsing kidly.co.uk. It’s an eCommerce site aimed at gifts for 0-4-year-olds. They do a great job of selling themselves as a ‘by people for people’ kind of company. There are fluffy images of the team looking happy. The about us section is full of references to parenting so that people can relate.

I get this type of marketing. It’s smart. It bypasses your brain's neocortex and buries itself deep into your emotional core. If you relate to these people, and they seem like you, you’re more likely to buy from them. It’s genius.

I don't have a problem with this type of marketing, until it begins to encroach on the user experience.

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Published on 26 July 2017 | 2 minute read Some thoughts on primary buttons

I’ve recently been ranting a lot about primary buttons. But people often don’t understand what they are. In my early days as a designer, I thought it meant adding the class ‘btn-primary’ to my markup, and this is a common mistake.

In the land of user centred design, buttons and links are not interchangeable. The problem is, a lot of people make this mistake and litter the Internet with bad design. That is confusing for the people that use it. Some of my early contributions are still out there causing a nuisance. Sorry.

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Published on 31 March 2016 | 2 minute read Hear no, see no, techno

Last week I attended Camp Digital, in the beautiful Town Hall of Manchester. It was your usual digital conference. Your usual crowd. But, today I saw a talk that has changed the way I think about websites and service design forever.

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Published on 29 October 2014 | 6 minute read What is 'normal' anyway?

I want to be normal. How many people have muttered these words during times of turmoil. How many people have wanted to trade their noisy, racing thoughts for a brain that was more peaceful. A brain that was numb and void of opinion. I know I have.

As I sit here, staring at the blank page, I can already feel my anxieties rising. As I begin to write, I find myself trying to imagine how anybody reading this will perceive my words. Type, then delete. Type, then delete.

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