One Year a Wikimedian

It’s been precisely one year since I did that most white and nerdy of things… I started editing Wikipedia. Or, to use the correct term, became a Wikimedian. (It is run by the Wikimedia Foundation, and you can contribute across various wiki projects beyond just Wikipedia, hence why you’re not called a Wikipedian).

Why did I do it? Luckily for me, I recorded it all in 750 Words at the time (22 September 2012). So, cut to 2012 Vicky:

To be honest, the reason it happened was because I was so angry about the lack of information relating to NZ music. How the hell was it that Loyal didn’t even have a wikipedia page relating to the single? So I’ve spent a lot of the last day and a half adding and editing pages. I’ll have to stop it soon but hope that I’ll at least have done a decent amount of it. On the one hand I wish that I had my Stranded in Paradise book here with me, but on the other hand am glad as it means I can’t get too obsessed about all of it. Anyway, it’s been interesting to learn stuff from that and the NZ On Screen docos: for example, that the Victoria of the Dance Exponents song Jordan Luck’s young landlady (though not named Victoria) who has an ‘arsehole’ of a boyfriend… I also found out that the Footrot Flats soundtrack was originally offered to Tim Finn but he turned it down.

So, what spurred me on was an obvious need: as many have pointed out, Wikipedia is far and above a US encyclopedia, which means that as soon as you get a little off the beaten track (such as a little set of Shaky Isles called New Zealand) the information there can drop off dramatically.

Some of the things that I’ve learnt since then are:

  • What it is to be notable. (I went and made a load of single entries for songs that didn’t break any top 40, which is a no-no).
  • How to understand tables and formatting with the dreaded Mediawiki markup (I’m quite proud of some of the ones I’ve done, and make an effort to convert all track lists I find to the appropriate template).
  • The concepts of fair use in relation to media footage and audio (and for that, how to convert tracks to ogg format)
  • How the Guild of Copy Editors is a wonderful way to kill some time, learn about random subjects, and brush up on your writing skills
  • It’s fun to be part of a drive to get more women of a particular subject onto Wikipedia.

More widely, I’ve found that being a Wikimedian changes your relationship to Wikipedia: see a badly worded article or broken link? Jump in and change it! I’ve got particular joy at getting articles that have disappeared or gone behind a paywall back from The Wayback Machine. It’s often interesting to capture the bits that get papered out of an artist’s history, say, for example the state of mind Dave Dobbyn was in (he’d basically been through hell) around the time of his first (well, second actually, but not many people know about that one) greatest hits.

When you start doing this type of thing, you begin to feel like an internet archaeologist: most of the city is shiny and new, but every once in a while you stumble on some older bit that’s been overlooked—you see the Flash animations, the earnest use of lime or yellow Courier on Black—or even more cunningly, you track down an old piece through the Wayback Machine like a private detective.

Conversely, as you start looking through your contributions history, you can see what you were compelled to edit over time: oh yes, there was that show I loved that was woefully underwritten, and that event I added some stuff to as it was going on. It’s something of an interest trail.

That said, I have noticed one thing that does most definitely stop people from being involved: the difficulty in getting new articles online. I’ve been lucky in that many of the pieces I’ve done have been obvious gaps, so have been able to bypass the content creation process. However, when I did have to create one from scratch, it took several weeks to get looked at (denied due to not enough references, a fair enough call at the time based on the article) and then a similar lengthy period when it was resubmitted a while later.

So, one year on, here’s hoping to many more!

(If you’re interested in getting into being a Wikimedian yourself, I wrote more technically on the process a few months ago on my other blog).


Praxis and Poetics: Research Through Design Conference

This week, designers and researchers from as far flung as Sydney and Melbourne congregated in the desolate North East beautiful Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art for the Praxis and Poetics conferences.

The overall conference was in fact two under one umbrella: the 10th Designing Pleasurable Products and Interfaces and the inaugural Research Through Design Conference. I was student volunteer for the RtD (anyone else have other associations with those initials?) conference, so saw these talks as well as the combined keynotes. (For a more general discussion and more pictures, check out the Storify of the event made by closing plenary speakers Jon Rogers and Justin Marshall, or the #praxisandpoetics twitter stream—along with the #rtd13 one I accidentally used for day two).

The conference was highly design orientated, and this went right down to the related schwag. Including origami badges for the two conferences (DPPI were wise owls, RTD soaring butterflies. Take from that what you will).

A note on the Research through Design conference: though it’s not obvious from this post (due mainly to my only having shoddy iPhone pictures), there was a related exhibition with the conference, and in the cases where presented papers had physical objects (most of them), the objects were brought through to the conference room and often passed around the audience. This gave a level of designerly awareness arguably absent from a lot of similar conference. (In the case of Jacob Sebastian Bang’s work, he was literally giving them away at the end of the event!)

Day One

Keynote: Patrick Jordan

The conference kicked off on Tuesday night with Patrick Jordan on positive psychology and design (“an academic version of self-help”) with a calmly measured talk packed to the hilt with examples.

change behaviours, not attitudes

  1. Take Responsibility: it’s too easy to ascribe issues such as bad health choices to not having any any opportunity to change. This is most obvious when it comes to giving up smoking or health related lifestyle changes. However, this also applies in work situations where employees (be they bus drivers sacrificing picking up mobility challenged passengers to call centre workers attempting to collect community debts) have no licence to deviate from the script. Allowing means of discretion (e.g. changing the bus tracking system to note when mobility challenged are picked up, or just making rules not hard and fast) allows workers to be a lot happier and therefore less likely candidates for absenteeism.
  2. Set Goals: it’s hard to motivate yourself to just go to the gym… which is why people often have something of an epic journey (running from one end of the British Isles to the other end) with a similarly meaningful story. Good Gym capitalises on this need for
  3. Be Positive: been to Disneyland? You loved it right? Yet there were lots of lines, weren’t there… this is a careful implementation of the peak experience rule where you can have neutral to negative experiences but effectively forget about them as long as your final experience is really good.
  4. Persevere Intelligently: there are apps such as In Flow that help you track your happiness and see what your happiness or unhappiness triggers are. Of course, that doesn’t help you figure out exactly how to avoid that toxic friend….
  5. Connect with Others: apparently the so called creative rooms of Google don’t actually make people more creative… but they attract the best creative people. The Men’s Sheds initiative also attempts to reconnect older men feeling isolated with other men through the act of making things (while women are happy to meet up for the sake of meeting up, men need a goal).

There were a few other interesting facts worth taking note of:

  • The most trusted figure for advice is a young woman (perhaps because when we were babies our mothers were young?). Notice that all avatars at present are women?
  • Names, language and even colour matters (as anyone who’s read 1984 will know). Euphemisms can attempt to forgive brutality (waterboarding rather than torture?). If you’re named Jordan, you’re least likely in the UK to be trusted (perhaps both due to the Middle East and Katie Price). And in a wresting match, if you’re wearing red, you have a 2 in 3 chance of winning as opposed to blue.

Finally, if all that is too much to parse, there are sketchnotes available:

Day Two

Keynote: Rachel Wingfield

The keynote by Rachel Wingfield explored her (and her partner Mathias Gmachal’s) practice over the last decade through their research consultancy


Their projects push the limits of both materials (they have done a number of works using the principles of lacing in more technological and architectural settings) and making connections (they worked with Nobel winning scientists who initially “thought we were going to do their curtains and ties” before finding a common interest through structures).

@loopph extolling the values of the 'handmade digital'  #praxisandpoetics

(Also do check out the blog summary by Richard Banks of the talk).

‘Viewing’: Ian Gwilt, Aysar Ghassan,Patrick Macklin, Mark Blythe/Jo Briggs/Jason Wilsher-Mills

The first session on Viewing investigated different ways of looking at design research or even the means of understanding art.

Ian Gwilt introduced the concept of “data-objects”: objects that make data more tangible and understandable. Databronze was made with the simple aim of allowing designers to understand the relationship between age and strength for gripping objects.

The point [with the data object] was to get users to be able to create their own metaphors

They were also interested in whether materiality played a role in how the data was perceived and used both plastic and bronze: as it turned out, bronze was more trusted due to its weight and colour but the (white) plastic seen as potentially more accurate.

He also noted that the preferred objects were either experiential (acted on) or landscape (giving an overview).

One interesting aspect brought up by the audience was the notion of data as an ongoing changing medium: if data is constantly changing, do objects capture it in a way that might seem more fixed than it actually is?

Aysar Ghassan transplanted Bauhaus leader Walter Gropius into the modern day world of design thinking via design fiction or more specifically an open letter. “Dear Sir/Madam: Walter Gropius Petitions the League of Design Thinkers” was presented as a means of unpacking the difference between modernism and design thinking, with Ghassan suggesting that the former is about rules and formula while the latter is about holism.


Some of the audience questioned whether this was too neat a formula (though arguably there are ‘temples’ of modernism and design thinking that are commonly understood, even if they’re exaggerated). I wonder whether Gropius would in fact be welcomed with open arms by the big-data league of designers.

Patrick Macklin explored the concept of “HEIMA” (‘home’) in his case study on soundscapes and his native Glasgow.

In the tsunami of design imagery…we should be harnessing other stimuli such as sound

The city was radically changed in the mid-20th century to have a motorway run *through* rather than around it, and so the project attempts to use archival sounds to allow residents to engage in the area’s history. It was pointed out that there have been a number of similar projects—even in Glasgow—and that the key issue is finding appropriate means for residents to engage with it.

Mark Blythe, Jo Briggs and Jason Wilsher-Mills delved into the world of digital painting in “Blue Jay Weeble: Experiential Approaches to iPad Painting”. When David Hockney makes an image on an iPad, where is the original? How can s[editions] enforce their supposed digital-only art orders?


They note that the one interesting new art form brought in by digital painting is the notion of time and process, and presented the Repentir app, which allows you to scrub through the history of a digital work. (This also reminds me of the Hereafter mirror by United Visual Artists that showed further back in time the more you moved … to the set up which mischievously included a chicken!).

Their main point of interest was investigating flickr iPad brush groups “which are mostly pictures of Wolverine” but introduced them to the work of Jason Wilsher-Mills (aka Blue Jay Weeble). Wilsher-Mills’ story is fascinating in its own right, and his struggle with ongoing illness is combined with his immersion in Scottish art history to create a distinctive style. However, what is of particular interest here is how he experiments with the medium of iPad painting (which was also demoed the day before the keynote). He has noted the way it enables him to make dramatic changes to his work (including resizing and going beyond the canvas). Of course, the issues with such work is the one on every artist’s lips: how do you make money? To this end, the team are doing research into Kickstarter and how successful campaigns work so as to see how they can launch a fundraising project for him. (Someone pointed out that postcard printers and 3D print shops much love Kickstarter due to all the small scale objects used as funding incentives). I actually believe that this research could end up being far more visible than the existing work if it succeeds, given the amount of media attention on Kickstarter and its failures as well as successes.

‘Meaning’: Zoë Sadokierski, Debi Ashenden, Rachele Riley

Zoë Sadokierski from the University of Sydney presented “The Book Spotter’s Guide to Avian Titled Literature”. As a professional graphic designer (specialising in book covers), she’s had to struggle navigating the gap between design practice and research (a wider discussion pointed out that often the designed artefacts in regards to design research are pretty disappointing). A project beginning with temporary graphic treatments for an area being upgraded turned into a full taxonomy, namely types of birds. (As it turns out, Sadokierski is something of an animal fanatic, admitting that she’s done shows on giraffes as well). Later taxonomies included positive and negatively named birds (you know when you’re getting to works like Satan that you’ve hit gold) as well as erotically named birds as referenced against a particular reference book. (There was notable disappointment in the audience when Sadokierski rushed over this section!)

More broadly Zadokierski noted their use of data mining:

She suggested that the difference between the playing around in design and rigor of research comes down to the documenting. To this end, the research was shown in a two-way book: one way showing the process in a designer’s narrative, the other in a more critical research stance.

[EDIT: I came across a similar article relating to the power of taxonomies and the curated artifact on Design Observer]

Debi Ashenden presented “‘IT Fauna’ and ‘Crime Pays’: Using Critical Design to Envision Cyber Security Futures”. As the client in the research team, her being able to explain it was a good acid test of the work! As part of a wider initiative investigating how the cloud could be used in cyber security, they created ‘IT fauna representing various cyber security concepts as a means of counteracting how non-specialists are unable to participate in discussions due to the specialised language.

Rachele Riley went beyond whether the truth is out there to the history we forget in “The Evolution of Silence”. Her work is investigating the decades of nuclear testing that went on in the Nevada desert, and through it the changing opinions of nuclear testing (from people writing in asking to be volunteers for testing to the later reports of radiation related illness). As she isn’t allowed to make recordings on the actual site, she has to use a combination of human documentation (sketching) and collecting others (asking for freedom of information from the government and finding ephemera).

Right now it’s just her research but she’s hoping to get stories from others given that time may be running out for them.

‘Being’: Sarah Morehead, Eunjeong Jeon, Anne-Marie Kirkbride

This session (which I chaired, hope people enjoyed it!) questioned common understandings of the body and the ‘standard’ body.

Sarah Morehead talked about reinterpreting wool for evening wear in Poetics of Play; Touch and Movement in Garment Design with Sheepskin, Silk and Lace. She is interested in how materials can influence and engage the wearer. After investigating the role of material and posture in physiotherapy situations, she started exploring how she could use wool both for a sense of reassuring self-touch (sleeves etc) and to change posture (necklines and covering). I was interested in how she was also attempting to find ways to communicate what she does as a kinesthetic learner.

Eunjeong Jeon’s “Touch Me, Feel Me, Play with Me” similarly played with materiality and its bodily effect on the wearer. She investigated how a felt fabric could be manipulated into a form so as to give back support.

Ann Marie Kirkbride investigated fashion illustration beyond the catwalk in “Illustrating Fashion’s Invisible Woman”.

Cognisant both of the spoken and unspoken standards in fashion (her students are more shocked by a picture of Julia Roberts’ armpit hair than Japanese footbinding practices) and the gap between the ideals and actual buyers of fashion, she sought to investigate how depicting an older female (the fashion buyer with more discretional income, but all but ignored by the fashion world) would differ in terms of being depicted from the standard teen woman. In her search for an older female muse, she found that she was more successful with a fashion confident female muse than an ‘elegant’ one. While she did have to be aware of some age-related considerations (the model’s stamina for standing and not making them look tired) her muses weren’t concerned about looking young or wrinkled (as one stated “I’ve worked hard for these wrinkles”).

Day Three

Intermission: as this day went straight into talks, I think this is good point to make a note of the food. Newcastle is renowned for the bacon buttie (the pasty franchise Greggs originated here!) and the Baltic served up a sophisticated version of this “traditional” dish.

‘Doing’: Sofie Beier, Jacob Sebastian Bang, David O’Leary

While the work in this section ranged from typography to architecture to industrial design, they all investigated notions of creativity through mastery and slowness.

Sofie Beier’s “Legibility Investigation: Towards Controlling Typeface Variables” pointed at how psychologists investigating typefaces often miss the nuances of type design and make comparisons without understanding underlying context (e.g. there’s no point in saying Georgia is more legible than Helvetica without being able to say why).

Inspired by Frutiger’s letterform matrix, she combined together a number of typefaces for a ‘generic’ shape, then used her professional judgement to make this typeface work as a proper letter set.

Jacob Sebastian Bang’s “Work in Progress” is about exercises in repetition and replication. He and his students make hundreds and even thousands of prototypes in plaster and then transform them either physically (cutting up and reconfiguring) or through representations (drawing on x-rays).

David O’Leary’s “The Tao of SolidWorks” is a work in progress which he described during the talk as an investigating of how mastery of Solidworks can make designers more creative, but was challenged by the audience as potentially being part of a wider narrative about digital craftsmanship.

‘Being’: Hazel White, Matt Coombes, Winnie Ha

Hazel White’s “Fabric Fobs and Family Ties” looked at how craft could be used in ways to engage communities that are disadvantaged in some way regarding technology. They created boxes of ‘smart cushions’ that loaded images, meaning that people in a care home could engage with content from their families without needing to understand how to use a PC.

Similarly, they found techniques to allow children with autism to communicate their feelings.

Matt Coombes‘ “Empathy and the Individual” discussed his “non therapeutic tools of grieving” (he admits that with hindsight they could be called ‘therapeutic’ tools as it doesn’t necessarily mean ‘therapy’, which was what he was trying to avoid). He based the tools on his own experience—such as crying a single tear at a funeral and from that concept creating the Tear Catcher—and crazy examples from the users (“people I know and who trust me”) using (having an emotional phone call and crying), misusing (choosing the most difficult tear catcher bottle) and then questioning (attempting to get the tears in the jar with a pin and then realising how bizarre the entire setup was) the entire concept.

More generally, Coombes is exploring empathy: “when you view people as individuals it’s easier to have empathy with them”. He’s aware of the fine line between empathy and sympathy (it’s easy but not good to lapse into the latter), and is investigating how concepts of improv may help with such things. (He even got the audience to—gasp!—touch each other in a live human demo of co-experience through mirroring.)

Of course, these stories weren’t in the paper. This was picked up on in the discussion: how should we as designers capture these insights and stories (particularly for PhD research) even if they don’t seem valid for papers? Zoë Sadokierski suggested that perhaps blogs are a way to document and make visible these seemingly superficial or anecdotal bits of evidence.

Winnie Ha’s “Writing Practice as Contemporary Practice: Experience, Imagination, Knowledge” work is attempting to bring performativity into fashion, particularly what writing happens when there is no clothes involved. In terms of performativity and clothing, Margaret Attwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” was brought up as a useful analogy. The discussion evolved to a wider one on writing in doctoral research, and how designers sometimes bring naïvity/bravery to their writing through writing various voices, with useful examples brought up by the audience including N. Katherine Hayles’ ‘Writing Machines’ and Queneau’s ‘Exercises in Style”

I also liked the comment from designer (and accomplished playwright!) Louise Taylor in response to Ha’s comment that “I don’t describe myself as a writer as I’m not very good at it and it’s not natural to me!”:

‘Doing’: Hugo Glober, Kerry Walton, Phil Luscombe

The final session of the day I saw questioned various forms of the status quo. Tim Ingold was referenced a lot throughout the presentations!

Hugo Glover’s “The 4th Wall Project: A Creative Exploration of 3D-Stereoscopic Viewing and Animation” was similar to the discussion that he did last year for the Interaction Tyneside meetup which I covered at the time. He’s investigating how to bring the concepts of stereoscoping viewing (i.e. those old Victorian penny machines showing a 3D image) into the world of computers.

In “Exploring the Relationship between Textiles and Drawing”, Kerry Walton attempted to learn how to sketch through weaving. In short: it’s hard! Most of the work is hidden (like drawing on a roll) and sometimes the back is more interesting. Still, taking references from Farthing and Marshall et al, she’s found that sketching in textiles does force creativity and new ideas in a way that she’s keen to fold back into her practice.

Phil Luscombe’s “Moving Target: The Modification of Intent when Making a Pair of Scissors” questions whether Pye’s separation of design (proposes) and workmanship (desposes) and the related 1 to 1 translation of idea to construction. Along with Ingold, Keller and Keller, and Preston, he is attempting to find an account of ‘good workmanship’ that acknowledges the improvisation that happens.

Good workmanship is the skillful navigation of resistance thoughout the creation of a thing.

He identified 8 types of resistance (“as well as the big ones of time and cost”):

  1. communication,
  2. information availability
  3. material availability
  4. technological availability
  5. manual dexterity
  6. material recalcitrance
  7. dumb machines
  8. function

Keynote: Justin Marshall and Jon Rogers

The final keynote by, according to organiser Jayne Wallace “the short messy hairiness of Justin Marshall and Jon Rogers” (I’ll leave you to look on twitter to find the context for that!) brought together themes from the conference. Again, they’re noted in the storify so to avoid a strange sense of online recursion it’s better to see the original. More generally, they discussed the future of technology beyond the happy-clappy news of 3D prototyping.


Open Design: Mozilla London

On Wednesday night Mozilla London hosted an event on Open Design. I wasn’t there, but thankfully they live-streamed the entire event, which was fun for me as I got to confuse people as to whether I was in the room! The videos will be up shortly, but in the interim here are my notes (also check out the detailed twitter conversation from the evening).

Over the course of the night, a number of recurring themes (and a couple of dichotomies!) emerged:

Not open or closed, but ajar: Tom Hulme, OpenIDEO

Perhaps my favourite phrase of the evening came from Tom Hulme of IDEO (if anyone can nail a good phrase, it’s them). He talked about designing to be ‘ajar’: most projects cannot be entirely open, but they shoudn’t be entirely closed either. I also liked his phrase of allowing ‘time and oxygen’ to incorporate serendipitous ideas.

While discussing Convergence and the Ubuntu community, Ivanka echoed Hulme in stressing that secrets, while necessary, are an overhead and can undermine goodwill (for example if you can’t explain to the community why the brand looks the way it does because of strategies in the process of being implemented).

Desire paths and (real life) community building: Drew Smith, Tobias & Tobias

Drew Smith of Tobias & Tobias talked about open design with communities. Continuing with the list theme of the night, he suggested the following points:

  1. Choose one problem and solve it. Finding an easy win helps build good will. One example was a Tadcaster community lamenting no events for elder people. As it turned out, they still happened, it was just that no one knew about them as there were no more community papers. Easy win: create an events web page to list them all. Easy, and able to be slowly scaled up (see #4)
  2. Reflect the swagger of the community and avoid identikit solutions
  3. Be inclusive (consider digital literacy, availability)
  4. Allow people to self-assemble. Rather than build a big solution (a big website etc), build little bits that can be built on.

It’s not a bug, it’s an idea!: Tony Santos, Mozilla

Tony Santos discussed the Mozilla advocacy system, such as how they attempt to embed designers in the dev community to both help with understanding and gather feedback. However, more interesting was how they use Bugzilla to not only track reports but get ideas, namely by mining the conversations. As one audience member pointed out, it seems a long-winded way to get inspiration, but it’s still an interesting concept for repurposing existing data (much as Tom “I’m embarrassed to admit that I’d never done a search terms dump” Hulme used search results as a means of checking for areas the Open IDEO site needed to cover).

Being a Designer in an Open Source Community: Ivanka Majic, Canonical and Leisa Reichelt

Both Ivanka and Reichelt were brought in to help design in a tech-oriented open source communities (Ivanka works at Canonical who is the main proponent of Ubuntu, and Reichelt was brought in with Mark Boulton as a consultant for Drupal 7).

Both espoused similar points:

  • You need to be able to explain and advocate why a design is done in a specific way (and ensure developers have the right language to be able to question its feasiblity)
  • It will affect the way you work for the better. Reichelt has adopted a lot of the strategies
  • Let people do what they’re good at (be it designers doing high fidelity details or developers implementing features)

However, their experiences have been markedly different. While Ivanka has had reaonable success with having pretty much whatever was necessary developed, Leisa grappled with getting the right level of detail for communicating (what she presented was too abstract) and not getting the right information back either (namely if a feature was so problematic that it might be better canned).

One thing that perhaps wasn’t made explicit (though Leisa mentioned it later) was that how designers are brought into an open source system can have a huge impact. While Ivanja is a paid and evangelised part of the Ubuntu system, Reichelt (and her design collaborator Mark Boulton) were brought in as contractors/consultants, and arguably were in less of a leadership role. (As someone who follows the Drupal community, Drupal 7 was also something of a turning of a large ship in that not everything succeeded, and in fact some major failings of the CMS as it stands—weird hardcoded elements, bad media handling etc—are being addressed in the upcoming Drupal 8).

Jen Simmons has spoken of similar issues with the Drupal community in a recent podcast.

A taxonomy of openness? Kwantecorp

Over the night, it was repeated that openness is not the same, be it as a consultancy considering open design, doing open design as a company behind open source software, or a consultant working for an open source community.

Lison-based Kwante continued this thread. His company is not only attempting to engage with openness on a number of levels, but also try to communicate these different levels. They were as shown:

Taxonomy of Openness

Taxonomy of Openness

Opening up the Open Design Space through Case Studies

As someone who is sometimes critical of the lack of actual examples shown at conferences and meetups, I was heartened at how the stories from Open Design came from the coalface of successes and failures. Thanks to Mozilla for hosting the event and opening up the livestream for those further afield than London (open design and open access!).

Editorially: First Look

There’s been a recent upsurge in apps and services for writing and document authoring.

So far, we have

  • solo writing environments: be they hard-core systems such as Scrivener, or ‘just-write’ programs like IA Writer or Omwriter
  • collaborative authoring tools such as Basecamp, Google Docs, and Evernote. They’re useful but horrid to write in, do referencing, or anything particularly writerly, and
  • Microsoft Word, which for all of its issues is great for reviewing and sharing.

(Thanks Mike Press for putting it so clearly!)

But what about actually doing proper online writing and collaboration? For a lot of us that work a lot writing online, documents often end up with a lot of roundtripping. It might start in Google Docs, then WordPress or Word. Or be an Evernote collection moved into Scrivener.

The new Beta Editorially is explictly aimed at filling this niche. As the site is in beta and invitation only, for many people this is pretty much behind a curtain. What was there?

Trying it out

Given that Editorially is meant to be collaborative (and that a number of people I know do a lot of writing both on and offline), I asked on twitter for people interested to try collaborating on a document. (The invite for Editorially allows you to add three others, which is just enough to get a
feel for what would happen). Christian Perfect and Mike Press offered to try it out.

The reviewing team

The reviewing team

Incidentally, they were able to come at it from different angles as well, as Christian is involved with a number of online magazines and educational resources, and Mike has written a number of co-authored books (and even has a section on his own website dedicated to working tools).

How we currently work

I’ve been involved with both editing articles for an online magazine, and writing academic papers jumping between a laptop and a desktop at home. I therefore try to keep as much as possible online rather than deal with versioning issues. My standard system with co-authored online articles involves starting on Google Docs before moving to WordPress. When it comes to writing, I start in IA Writer and then move to Word or Scrivener.

Mike Press’s system for writing similarly involves lots of different modes:

Currently I use IAWriter and Evernote to pull notes together and to gather ideas. These I pull into Scrivener, along with other more detailed research material. The draft gets puts together there. Working with a co-author, I’ll import the draft into Word and send it the document to them. They will review and edit in Word. Then I’ll pull it back into Scrivener. It’s a damned clunky system. But it works.

Look and Feel: Lovely

One of the team behind Editorially is legendary designer Jason Santa Maria, so it’s not surprising that the interface is as beautiful to write with as IA writer.

Responsive Set

The interface, working on a number of devices

However …

A Lost in Space Interface

If there’s one issue with the site at present, it’s that it’s a little too clean and tidy. It’s taken a few hours of investigation to find a lot of features, and this process was repeated when I invited others to collaborate.
Here are some examples:

  • Word count: appears at first to be missing. This was quite rightly a deal breaker for Mike: “like caring about the craft of quality tailoring, but not providing your tailors with measuring tapes.” However, it turns out that if you click on the title at the top of the page you get the word (and character) count. That’s great once you know it, but I doubt that anyone would click there unless you were trying to change the document title. Speaking of which….
    Word Count

    Where’s the word count? Oh, there, when you click on the title.

    [EDIT 6 APRIL: this has been fixed, as the word count is now available on the right and side of the page under a Google account-like cog icon]

  • Changing titles is hidden on the dashboard under options.

    Renaming is under the Dashboard

    Renaming is under the Dashboard

  • Posts don’t always lead to the edit page (though clicking on the pencil edit button will get you there). This is probably because of its focus on editing and collaborating rather than just writing.

There are also a few other hidden features that aren’t immediately obvious:

  • Saving is automatic, but there is an option to save with a comment (save with note under the clock icon, or Ctrl+Alt+S).
  • Under this is also a version view (see below).

Formatting: Markdown or Bust

Editorially uses a stripped down version of Markdown. And no other options. I’ve got into using Markdown as of late as I get involved with Wikipedia (and I’d argue that their version of formatting is even weirder). However, as Mike pointed out, a lot of writers don’t necessarily want to use Markdown:

Markdown Come on? Are you serious? This takes me WAY back to the days of Wordstar (yes, really I’m that old). With all that clunky formatting, typewriters were still giving Wordstar a run for its money. This is 2013: I don’t want, need or will use a markdown cheatsheet. The company tries to sell me the idea that “markdown matters”. Sorry. I’m a writer; it matters not one iota to me.

Editorially formatting options

Editorial formatting options. The only other option is ** for a line rule (and I found that the ordered list didn’t work!)

Conversely, for those that really use Markdown or other HTML based writing, the formatting is pretty stripped back. Christian tested the various options available (it turns out the only markdown that works that isn’t on the cheatsheet is the *** for a hr tag). While some of those tags are arguably presentation formatting only, it’d be nice to be able to do things like tables.

[ADDENDUM: one thing that a lot of bloggers will attest to his how annoying it is to add interesting links and check they’re correct. In adding all the links for this piece I realised how useful the Editorially system was as it’s easy to both add and check links. Once you get the syntax correct.]

Versioning: Think WordPress, not Google Docs

While Editorially ‘just saves’ like Google Docs and other cloud based systems, it also allows you to save with version notes. (Admittedly, you do have to make a little bit of effort to do this, but it’s no big thing). One nice feature of the site is a visual timeline of changes (something that has always been a bit of a pain with Mediawiki, WordPress, and Google Docs).

Timeline View

Timeline View

Immediately a few issues came up:

  • As it turns out, when you collaborate with others, only one person can edit at a time. This makes it more like WordPress than Google Docs, and is a bit of a pain as you have to ask for permission when it comes to editing a document. Basically, at present, this is more like passing around a Word document than using an online one.

    Editing with others

    Editing with others

  • We all noticed that there was no option for inline comments (certainly if you’re working remotely it’s useful to be able to at least query various parts of writing without actually changing them). It also seems at present that any person given a reviewing role is given read-only rights, and can’t even leave save comments.
Comments are available, but not inline

Comments are available, but not inline

Import and Export

Both Christian and Mike picked up on the lack of export options (right now it’s only Markdown and HTML). As Mike wrote: “That simply doesn’t work for me – and I can’t think of any serious writer for whom it would work. The text is trapped.”. Christian conversely noted that for people working online (e.g. wanting to copy the text over to a website CMS) there’s no copy option as you have to download and then upload. Import is pretty similar as well, markdown or HTML.

Importing options
Importing options

I also found in the process of moving the text over with HTML that not all the formatting works: namely, I had to redo all of my list items in HTML, which isn’t a deal breaker but a bit of a pain.

HTML output

HTML output

An Alternative: Draft

The closest comparison to Editorially at present is the free-to-use Draft. This site’s strategy for editing is like programs such as Git or Mercurial: when given a link, you work on your own version, then request the owner to merge the changes. It still has more friction than Google Docs, but is less painful than Editorially. It also allows for more options in regards to exporting (including for WordPress). At present, if you’re working on an online article to a deadline, it might be worth looking at Draft (or Google Docs) rather than Editorially.

Final Thoughts

Editorially has clearly identified a niche that has yet to be filled: collaborative online authoring for serious articles.


The status system looks interesting, though it doesn’t change functionality as of yet.

However, it is still most certainly early days (as their team notes, they’re still very much in progress , and as the quick try out from Mike, Christian and I showed that it’s not there yet for either book writing or online articles. From our informal review, I’d suggest three things that Editorially needs in order to start being more useful:

  • Better findability for the available tools (particularly word count)
  • Better commenting systems, particularly inline comments
  • Wider options for getting the text out of the site, both for book writing and online writing.
  • Depending on the market they choose to aim at, it’ll also be interesting to see whether they enforce Markdown only formatting.

Personally, as someone who does like Markdown, the convenience of writing online and pure joy of the interface means that I’ll probably try and write a fair bit of my thesis in it (and use it instead of IA Writer). When it comes to collaboration, Google Docs is still probably my go-to,  but I’ll be keeping a close eye on how the product develops .

Thanks to Christian and Mike for their input.

Free and Cheap Apps for the Digital Researcher

I often get asked about the various programmes I’m using for research, as I’m always looking out for opensource or affordable programs. Here are a list of those that I’ve found and find useful (most cross platform, but some only Mac).

Writing: Scrivener 

(Mac/PC Beta, $US20/free demo)
Scrivener was recommended to me by fellow designer and researcher Jeremy Yuille (cheers!). Used by screenwriters, academics, basically anyone who needs to write long texts, it lets you create outlines, write in chunks, and drop in other resources.

I'm using it to lay up my writing, and it does work well, as it makes outlining easier (OK, Microsoft Word does do this, but in a far less obvious way). 
Scrivener Corkboard View
There are different views you can use, depending on whether you think in words or with post-its.
Scrivener Writing
To be honest, I like using it just for draft writing!
It also does things like versioning and other features I haven't even tapped into yet!
Available on Mac, iPad, beta in Windows.
Other options: LaTeX (free, all platforms)

File management: Citeulike and Mendeley.

I used to use Endnote at my former university (where it was available for free for students, and also connected to our library database: one click referencing!) but after I lost it in a hard drive fail, I decided to look at other options.

(free, web based) has the advantage of being a web based lookup service (most things are there) so that you can usually find most book references, and access them from any computer. You can also share your libraries with other people.

The citeyoulike library

Mendeley (free, with paid online storage options) is a reference and file manager application. What I like about it that it also creates an iTunes like library of any articles (papers etc) you have, and allows you to add notes and annotations on top of them within the app. The free version also gives 2Gb of online backups/synching for files and annotations, and can also let you share these with other researchers. It also lets you do Cite-as-You-Write (as does Endnote) in Word and Open Office.Available on Mac, PC, and iOS reader.

Mendeley Files

Mendeley Text

Mendeley file system, and annoting a PDF through the viewer

Other options: I know many people use the Zotero Firefox plugin, (also stores files and images, but particularly useful if you have lots of web links, and imports to Mendeley), and have also heard good things about the Mac-only Papers. And good ol’ Endnote.

Backups/File Sharing: Dropbox

Free with paid options

It’s every researcher’s worst nightmare for their computer to fail or be stolen just before a big deadline. Or the inconvenience of working across different computers. That’s where Dropbox is a godsend (at least in the UK where internet is unmetered).

I have all my research files within a Dropbox folder. As far as I’m concerned, it’s just a normal folder, but every time I make changes, it pushes them up to a web folder … and to any other computers I have that are connected. The iPhone app is an easy way to get photos off your camera.
Shared folders are also an easy way to create a shared resource.

Scrivener in Action

My PhD folded in Dropbox — 3Gb, all safely uploaded to the web and synched to my other computers!

I have the paid version, not only because it gives me more storage space (a whopping 50Gb), but paying a few dollars extra also gives me versioning so that I never have to worry about accidentally deleting a file again. 

Other options: I’ve heard good things about Wuala, but there are a lot of others. And of course, for Mac people, there’s Time Machine (though you can obviously use this as well as Dropbox).

Distraction Management: Freedom and Antisocial

Mac/Windows $US15 each, $20 bundle

Ah, the internet. So many things to look at. Which isn’t always good. Freedom and Antisocial work for different situations:
Freedom lets you completely turn off the internet for a set period of time. Turn it on, plug in your time, and your internet will be completely blocked for that period unless you reboot your computer. (It’s worth noting that it only counts time your computer is active: if it goes to sleep with ten minutes left on the clock, that time will carry over when you wake it up again).

Mac Freedom
Anti-social is useful for when you still need the internet, but want to avoid the pyramid of distraction, namely social media. It also lets you plugin extra sites that you want to be barred from.


Getting Things Done: Teuxdeux

Free webapp, $US1.99 iPhone app

A beautifully designed webapp from Tina Roth Eisenberg aka swissmiss, Teuxdeux has won a devoted following amongst designers. Simply add a task, and then click on it when it’s done to see it crossed out. Unfinished tasks automatically advance.


Video Analysis: TAMS

(free, Mac only)

TAMS Analyser is probably not for the technophobe — it’s coding is a bit more raw than its expensive (and PC only) competitor nVivo. Howver, if you’re prepared to learn to type curly brackets to open and close statements, it’s surprisingly powerful, with its video player even letting you usefully play footage at slower speeds. As an opensource app, it has minimal documentation, but there are some wonderful user made guides floating around).

TAMS Analyser

Yes, it definitely puts the 'source' into opensource, but TAMs is surprisingly well featured past that

Project Management — openProj (free, all platforms)

While this is one of the freeware apps I’m least happy with (it is limited, and hard to print from well), openProj is useful in getting the job done for mapping out timelines.
Options: I have used Merlin ($US50, Mac) in the past and really liked it.

Short Bursts of Writing: IAWriter ($US10)

For bits of writing that have to get done, IAWriter by Oliver Richestein (aka @IA) is a beautiful to use *and* look at Mac app, with full-screen mode and formatting shortcuts.
Other Options: Darkroom and Writeroom (Mac and PC respectively, $US20 and free beta)

Communities and Sharing:, Facebook, Twitter, Slideshare/Issuu

OK, these aren’t strictly apps, but given researach is as much about getting your research out there as doing it, I thought I’d add it in.

  • (yes, its name includes the .edu) looks to be the LinkedIn of academics (and if you aren’t on LinkedIn, you should be).
  • However, in terms of keeping up with what regular people are up to, Facebook is pretty useful (mainly because everyone is on it). It’s particularly good for ad-hoc groups: my PhD cohort have a private Facebook group that we use to keep in touch.
  • And for those that don’t get how Twitter is useful for research: think of it as your personal news feed and way to connect with people. I get a lot of information about conferences and new articles from twitter, and often use it to ask questions. (For example, check out the recurring #phdchat stream).
  • I also make a point of telling people to put the slides from any presentation they do on Slideshare (free web service, with paid options). Not only is it a wonderful way to share what you’ve done with other people (rather than sending around PPT slides and risking them bouncing from people’s emails) but it serves as a passive way for people to find out about your research. A lot of people search on the site for various topics, so your slides could well reach people who wouldn’t know about you otherwise (or be prepared to skim through a 8 page PDF). For books, try Issuu.

Other options: I’m interested in the community (which is part of the model) as you can create circles and follow other researchers’ work. However, it’s still in its developing stages. I also urge people to not use Scribd anymore, as it used to have free access but now forces anyone who wants to download your PDFs to either pay or upload some other PDFs. Not very open.


What other apps are you using out there? I’d love to know your thoughts.

Jayne Wallace

One of the joys of being in Europe (or near it) is that you get to see the work of people that you'd only read about. I remember using some of Dr Jayne Wallace's work in my MDes thesis, so was happy to hear that she had recently moved to work at Northumbria.

For those who don't know about her, Wallace has a background in contemporary jewellery, but has moved into using jewellery and craft in design reserach. Her talk today was about two projects both based around working with dementia patients: the Selfhood Project (working with sufferers and their carers) and the Reminsicence Room (a project for a home in Middlesborough that houses patients with severe dementia).

Selfhood Project Brooch

Some of Dr Wallace's work with dementia suffers and their carers.

Some of the key takeaways were how technology can be combined with craft in subtle ways to help encourage memories and behaviours (e.g. Never Ending Story-like globes with special objects in them that can be placed near a special TV to play related movie clips). Wallace also pointed out that the person you think you're working with most may not be the key person — she initially thought the work on selfhood would be for the sufferers, but found that it was actually just as if not more important for the carers as well, to help them both keep the memories of the person they were caring for but also validate themselves in a difficult and ongoing role.

Digital sketchnotes below:

Jayne Wallace — Selfhood

Download PDF

Jayne Wallace — Reminiscence Room

Download PDF

Design PhD Conference

On the 1st of July I attended the PhD Design conference at Lancaster University. While it's a conference jointly held by Lancaster and Northumbria University, paper contributions came from England to Australia, and generally all of a very high quality.

The Speakers

The presentations were bookended with talks from people that had already finished their PhDs, which was supremely useful, with other talks ranging from first year to nearing writeup.

Martyn Evans kicked off the day with talk of his journey through his PhD on design futuring and amongst other things, enlightened us about:

but above all, I loved his finishing statement:

“you start off a PhD wanting to change the world, and end just wanting it to be over.”

Martyn Evans

Martyn Evans on his reflections

Jennifer Ballie of Chelsea College of Art and Design, University of the Arts London had some beautiful slides as she talked about her work into eco-textile design.
She's looked into a number of ways to encourages this, from workshops to online platforms such as Dress Up Download
My favourite comment on her work was:

“I thought that I'd be making a digital platform, but realized the materials & scarves were the platform”

Jennifer Ballie

Jennifer Baillie

Her slides:

Fellow Northumbria student Mersha Aftab talked about her research at Philips, which unusually started with research (rather than a literature study) due to industry involvement. She's actually found the process useful as it has honed the literature she's looking into, rather than just reading everything.
While she has found that getting time with industry is hard, she has a solution:

“corner them at conferences and squeeze the informantion you need out of them!”

Luke Feast of Swinburne University is an ethnographer looking into design methods. This meant he gave us a number of useful knowledge frameworks (objectivism, constructivism, subjectivism) as well pointing to researchers such as Rittel & Schon.

Luke Feast

Luke Feast's Knowledge Framework Matrix

What was interesting about his background is how he emphasised the rigour in hard ethnography — his research into studying when and where insights happen in design studios mean that he isn't just sitting in meetings, but also going to the lunches, getting into the cabs, and generally following them around and watching for informal insights.

The other Northumbria presenter was Alana James (part of my first year cohort!) about ethical fashion. She's looking at the intention-behaviour or (30:3) gap, which is how 30% of consumers say they'd like to support ethical fashion, but only 3% actually do it.
Her most stirring quote was a reputed saying amongst Nepalese women:


“if you're lucky you're a prostitute. If you're unlucky you're a garment worker”.


Her tips:

  • Talk — use the people around you/like-minded researchers, have a community
  • Contacts — get emails from people, keep in touch etc
  • … and tweet! Use it as a news feed, find people doing similar work to you. [Of course as a tweeter I liked this one]

Alana James
Alana James — talk, contacts, tweet

Marzia Mortati finished off the day with her PhD Designing Connectivity. Her suggestions from her process were to consider the environment you're doing your PhD in and be prepared to go somewhere else for a while if need be (she was studying in Italy, but found that relocating to England for a while and collaborating with Lancaster Uni was key into getting the PhD done)

Summing up

One of the strengths of this conference was its focus — all speakers appear to have been briefed on giving tips for the research process, and they delivered.

The plenary at the end suggested the following themes, which I agreed with:

  • visualization (there was a lot of mapping shown, and making visual sense of information)
  • social networking (be it twitter, skype, or general online communities)
  • sharing battle tips (as above)
  • the breadth/depth of design and methodology (design is a broad church).

Perhaps the best summing up of the conference was from the panel as well:

Design is about the question “why not?” and a PhD “so what?”

British HCI: Digi-Sketchnotes (Day 2)

More notes from the conference. Sadly, my notes can't capture the wonderful demos that happened at CultureLab (I was brave enough to try out the Digital VJ by Steve Gibson & Stefan Müller Arisona, but hope the footage doesn't end up on Youtube as I was pretty bad).

Exploring Choreographers’ Conceptions of Motion Capture for Full Body Interaction (Marco Gillies, Max Worgan, Hestia Peppe and Nina Kov)

Note: this was probably my favourite paper of the conference, an interesting topic with unexpected insights. Also: I missed his setup, but later was told that Marco Gillies was rocking an iPhone with his speech notes, head mic, and a number of videos in his presentation. I missed this because the presentation was bug free.


Download PDF

Supporting Hand Gestures in Mobile Remote Guiding: A Usability Evaluation (Weidong Huang and Leila Alem)

Download PDF


Designing Blended Reality Space: Conceptual Foundations and Applications (Kei Hoshi, Fredrik Öhberg and Annakarin Nyberg)


Download PDF


Making Public Media Personal: Nostalgia and Reminiscence in the Office (Paul André, Abigail Sellen, M.C. Schraefel and Ken Wood)

Download PDF


Curiosity and Interaction: making people curious through interactive systems (Rob Tieben, Tilde Bekker and Ben Schouten)

Download PDF


The Significant Screwdriver: Care, Domestic Masculinity, and Interaction Design (Shaowen Bardzell, Shad Gross, Jeff Wain, Austin Toombs and Jeffrey Bardzell)

Download PDF


Collective Creativity: The Emergence of World of Warcraft Machinima (Tyler Pace, Jeffrey Bardzell and Shaowen Bardzell.)

Download PDF

British HCI: Digi-Sketchnotes

I sat in on a number of the British HCI talks with a laptop and Wacom tablet, and captured notes from Abigail Sellen's keynote presentation, and some panels. The attached PDFs have clickable links and selectable text if the images aren't enough.


Keynote — Abigail Sellen “The Future of Looking Back” Download PDF

Helen Edwards

Helen Edwards “Encouraging Teenagers to Exercise through Technology Probes” Download PDF


Jennifer Sheridan, Nick Bryan Kinns, Atau Tanaka

Art and HCI panel — Jennifer Sheridan, Nick Bryan-Kinns, and Atau Tanaka Download PDF

The Second International Symposium on Culture, Creativity, and Interaction Design: Notes

On Monday and Tuesday this week I was fortunate enough to attend the The Second International Symposium on Culture, Creativity, and Interaction Design, held in conjunction with British HCI at Northumbria University.

The first symposium happened five years ago (well before my time in the UK, barely into interaction design at that point), but from what I can gather the symposium gathered a range of second-time and first-time speakers/presenters.

The presentations/papers covered a range of topics in HCI and creativity, from semiotics to dance.

One of my favourite things about the symposium was its focus on getting the groups to interact with each other in activities on how the group should continue.


Manifestos Ahoy

This could be new to me as I've generally gone to industry conferences, but what I appreciated from this was that it actually allowed for true discussion. I'd love to see this happenmore (though I have started to see it happen in break out sessions in some conferences).

Digital Sketchnotes

I was interested in trying to take a hybrid form of sketchnotes at a conference, that combined the freeform nature of drawing with the usefulness that searchable text provides. These sketches were made with a laptop and Wacom on Illustrator (the font is one I made of my own handwriting to make it feel less sterile and more personal). All are avaiable as a PDF underneath.

Jettie Hoonhout

Jetttie Hoonhout Download PDF


Calvi and Wood

Licia Calvi and Dave Wood “Running in Hermeneutic Circles — A Visual Phenomenological Methodology” Download PDF

Gilbert Cockton

Gilbert Cockton “Creativity in Design Theory and Discourse” Download PDF

Jan Deroven

Jan Deroven “Semiotics in HCI Practice” Download PDF

Ann Light

Ann Light “Making Monsters” Download PDF

Darren Reed

Darren Reed “Dancing Interactions” Download PDF

Per Henrik Storm

Per Henrik Storm “Expressive Interaction” Download PDF

Thelca Schiphorst

Thelca Schiphorst “Exquisite Sensing” Download PDF