All articles

Designing the impossible makes it possible Published on 2 May 2018 2 minute read

As an interaction designer, I hear a sentence at least once on every project I work on. "We can't do that because [insert mediocre excuse here]."

A lot of the time this is because of technology restrictions. We can't integrate with legacy systems. Or, we can, but the legacy system wants the information in a ridiculous format. So we have to change the design to ask for a mandatory middle name, where people have to write "none" in the box to progress. Urgh.

It's easy to make a snap decision, bow to peer pressure and change the design. After all, we don't want to waste our time designing something that's not possible.

Only, that's exactly what we SHOULD do.

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What is it like to use a screen reader on an inaccessible website? Published on 15 March 2018 3 minute read

You enter the front-door of a building. Somewhere inside is some information you need, but you've no idea where it is.

It's dark. Pitch black, in-fact. You cannot see your hand in front of your face.

The only way you can navigate this building is to use technology. You have a torch (or flashlight). The beam of light is narrow, about 1 metre in diameter.

You scan the room, inch by inch. You begin to build up a mental image of where stuff is, to try and orientate yourself in the room.

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One-page-applications are not accessible Published on 14 March 2018 3 minute read

The biggest problem with one-page-applications, is they create a terrible experience for people using screen readers.

There is a cognitive issue. Users have to maintain a mental image map of the page in all it's states. If they click something, and some new content appears. How does your user know what has changed? How do you make them understand what they cannot see? How do you orientate this to their mental map they have been building?

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

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

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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Validation for prototypes Published on 15 February 2018 3 minute read

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

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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Own your Alpha Published on 22 November 2017 2 minute read

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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Semantics and accessibility Published on 10 October 2017 2 minute read

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

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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