Drupal Camp Scotland

Apparently the mood in Edinburgh the night before Drupal Camp Scotland had been tense due to Nigel Farrage’ being in town. However, the biggest issue on the day was the weather, and organiser Duncan Davidson explained that “rain is a good sign for a Drupal Camp”, as it means that people don’t mind being inside on a Saturday.

Drupal Camp Scotland is unusual for a Drupal Camp in that the community part runs for one day rather than two. (As an out-of-towner, I appreciated having a day to recover for work). As someone who’d signed up to attend before the speakers were announced, I didn’t know what to expect, and was pleasantly surprised to see no fewer than three strands. I was particularly pleased to see some UX talks and workshops in the mix.

Also, the food was AMAZING.


Keynote speaker Robert Douglass (who was happy to come to the country responsible for his surname) was exasperated but not surprised when he found that while most of the room had their own side web projects online, only three included a means of taking payment on them. And one of those three was Commerce Guys.

He’d also noticed that he didn’t contribute to the Drupal community as much as he used to, and moreso that this was a common statistic for Drupal as a whole (aside from a large spike when Git was introduced). His take on both of these was that individuals needed to find ways to make profit so that they had the time (and finances) to contribute.

This is an interesting take on the whole issue of whether people should be expected to work on open source in their spare time.

Douglass expanded on a Reddit AMA quote from Dries that potential niches for making money in Drupal were as agencies, Drupal Hosting and Drupal services (in order of both decreasing ease to enter and increasing returns). Douglass is involved in the latter running a subscription service and sees this as an option for those people who raised their hands to make money. He also sees Drupal 8 as making this easier through a core API, safer theming via Twig and the new CMI.


Myles Davidson’s talk on ecommerce UX featured a lot of the hints that Orange Bus end up helping clients with: remove irrelevant information, provide inline help, have guest checkout and provide default settings.

There were a few specifics that got nodding approvals from the audience such as do search and recommendations well or not at all. There’s no way that a Man United fan would would buy an Arsenal shirt, so that implies that their site is faking data. It’s all the more a shame since John Lewis recently saw an 28% increase in conversions by implementing a proper recommendations strategy. There are even machine learning service available to help with this such as Nosto.

Davidson also pointed out to be careful about using the word ‘continue’ in carts (does that mean continue to checkout or continue shopping?)

What I particularly liked was how it was based on their own study (available as PDF) and so had stats to match.

It was also wonderfully in the spirit of DrupalCamps that a service provider asked for feedback and got it. Robert of Drupal Commerce asked if they had any usability issues to work through, and Davidson pointed out address books and coupons as issues… that they’d provided patches for.


Translation module Lingotek just became the most downloaded translation module in the Drupal directory. They offer different levels of translation from machine translation (similar to Google’s) to community or internal level to full Mechanical-Turk style outsourcing. The service can track changes in the source (if entities are added or amended) and that the translations happen ‘in an airlock’ that can then be imported in.

DISCLAIMER: I particularly like Lingotek since I won their raffle for a Nexus 7.


In the afternoon, UXer Lisa Rex got Drupalers doing DIY usability testing. It’s been a full 6 years, a long plane ride and a lot more job experience since I attended a similar workshop by Andy Budd, so I was curious to see how another practitioner does it. Five Drupal sites that participants were working on were tested. These ranged from a cookery site to a university PhD section! (As someone who’s actually done the latter, I felt that the needs for that are probably too niche for proper testing, but still, any testing is better than none). Attendees were split into teams of three to facilitate, notetake and participate.

Even testing two people (all that was possible in the time) started showing up serious issues, so it looks as if it’s a useful workshop to do.

Something that came up as recurring newbie tester mistakes were biasing the script (don’t ask to buy a voucher, ask to get a gift) and saying what it was you wanted to test (even if your hypothesis is that the navigation is wrong, you shouldn’t prompt people to ask about it).


Finishing up the day was the Scottish Drupal Awards. The winners were:

  • Best Drupal Site: College of Life Sciences at Dundee (internal)
  • Best Public/NFP site: John Muir Way (Heehaw)
  • Contribution of the year: Joachim Noreiko for Flag module maintenance. This was his win for the second year running, and he later hoped that there would be more Drupal contributions in the next year so that he didn’t win it for a third time.

Other talks that sounded great but I missed were the deconstruction of how the amazing Lush website was made (something our UX team were recently admiring), and the unimitable Jeffrey “Jam” McGuire on the potential mission of Drupal (I think). I’m hoping that others blog the tracks that they saw on the day. I also heard great things about the business day that ran the day before

Oh, and, finally, in pure Scottish style, Freudian slip of the day.

Answered: How do I set up a business twitter account?

So, you’re going to set up a business twitter account.You may have got lumped with this task because you’re the only person in the company who actually uses twitter. Or it could have just been most appropriate for your job description. As someone who’s advised a few people about setting up their social media profiles, I’ve realised that I’ve started saying the same things over and over again, so might as well put them all in one post.

Getting started: Your profile

When people choose to look you up on twitter, your profile can often be a deciding factor as to whether they follow you or now (for both business and personal accounts). Giving enough information will let them know who you are and that they can trust you.

What’s in a name?

When you’re setting up an account, it’s worth thinking about the name. If you’re a sole trader (or your name sells the company) you might want the account under your name. However, if other people are involved (and may man the account), it’s worth setting up a proper account.
If you can get the name of your company, GRAB IT. Even if you don’t use it immediately, it’s like a domain name in that people will often guess first. If you can’t get it, consider adding ‘org’ or something related to your location (e.g. ny/nz/london/ncl) to differentiate you.

I picked the wrong name!

You can easily change your twitter name (providing the one you want is available), and it will retain your following/followers. However, all old mentions will be lost, and there can be a bit of confusion if you don’t tell people you’ve changed your handle.

Recommendation: get the name you want as early as you can. If you do change, point it out to your followers so that they know.

Some tips:

Add a URL and location

If you have an official website, put that in the URL field as it’s a natural funnel (and credibility checker). Similarly, if you have an official location, add that as it helps followers to know which country you’re in (especially if you’re looking for hires!) especially in regards to time taken for replies. If you don’t have one place though, either put multiple locations or have a bit of fun with the field.

Have a descriptive description

Say what you are/do succinctly. If you have one or two people with twitter accounts of their own, add them to the profile (it also helps with credibility). If there is an element of customer service involved with your accounts you might even consider adding hours the account is manned.

Don’t be an egg.

As in, do set up a proper profile picture. It can just be your logo. However, some businesses regularly change them (Tyneside Cinema changes it based on what they’re showing at the time).

Managing multiple accounts

There’s nothing worse than tweeting something personal from an official account (there are various horror stories about this). Most apps (including the official Twitter ones) allow for multiple accounts. One potential gotcha is if you have notifications on for iOS, selecting the account will take you to the account for that notification (I’ve had a few near misses here as I’ve forgotten I’ve changed accounts).

However, if you’re web only, it’s not so easy. If you’re really conscious of not getting accounts mixed up, I suggest using different browsers for different accounts (e.g. using Chrome for your personal account and Firefox for your work one etc).

Recommendation: don’t make it easy to use the wrong account by accident. Use an app, or different browsers.

Connecting your services.

In a post-Google Reader world, Twitter is one of the main ways of sharing news. This means that you should make it easy to share news through twitter.

Website content management systems such as WordPress make it easy to connect your twitter account to the system (e.g. with their Jetpack extension) so that any new blog posts or news items are automatically posted to twitter. (Sadly, showing your twitter accounts in other places aren’t as easy as they used to be, but that’s another story). Take the time to connect things to save you having to do everything manually.

Services such as Hootsuite or Buffer allow you to schedule tweets ahead of time. Don’t go overboard with them, but they can be useful if you have potential clients in different timezones.

Conversation is a two way street.

If there’s one thing to be aware of with twitter is that it’s about conversation: it’s not all about you. If people ask you questions, you should probably respond to them within a day if possible. (Despite popular belief, it doesn’t have to be instant, though it helps. And you should have someone monitoring the account if you offer time based services like transport or even online hosting).

Early social media leader Tara Hunt used to talk about being “memorable, useful, and interesting”. (Actually, some of her old suggestions are even more relevant today). Be prepared to follow other relevant people and companies (or put them on a twitter list if you’re not keen on that) and even retweet other tweets that might be of interest to the people that follow you.

Don’t retweet every nice thing said about you. Especially if you choose to ignore any bad tweets. (One nice way to get around this for testimonials it to favourite them and then direct people to the list for testimonials. Hostgator used to do this up until recently).

Don’t flood their twitter stream. Share interesting links that aren’t related to your work.

Finally, make sure you know how @replies work. If you start a tweet with a @ and a twitter account name, only people who follow you *and* that other account will see it. If you want it to be seen by all your followers, put a . before the @ or rewrite your tweet.

Strategy

Think about who will be following you, and tweet accordingly. If you’re aiming at fellow business owners, share useful links relating to your work. If it’s people who are fans of your brand, keep the tone there.

Your twitter account should also have the voice of your company. For example: if you’re known for being reliable and trustworthy, your tweets should reflect that language (e.g Sage and Mint). If your brand is a bit more chatty and informal like, then your twitter account should reflect that, as with the Innocent or Moo twitter accounts.

Where can I get more tips?

There are a number of sources to help you navigate the business twitter world.

The Magical Orange Bus Tour

With the arrival of my Tier 2 visa (a biometric permit, namely a card that you have to use when travelling along with your passport, I miss having stamped in them) I have finally started working full time as a UX designer at the Newcastle digital design agency Orange Bus. I started there a week or so ago, but as my visa was getting sorted out I carefully adhered to the 20 hours per week allowed on my Tier 4 student visa.

So why Orange Bus? A number of reasons. Firstly, after years in academia I came to the realisation that I missed the buzz and stimulus of studio, as well as the opportunity to learn off others. Also, I’m not properly finished with my PhD as of yet, so was keen to stay in Newcastle so as to keep some continuity (I have to be good and spend my evenings and weekends working on my thesis!).

I’d been made aware of Orange Bus thanks to their head of UX Joanne Rigby, who was active on the Newcastle UX circuit and even been involved in some of their local presentation days. It also helped that they’ve employed international workers in the past (my fellow UXer Sai had to sit out a three month labour shortage time in India, so I’ve had it pretty easy in regards to visas) and could walk me through the process. And to be honest, any studio that has a well used foosball table and Friday afternoon beer o’clock can’t be too bad a place to work at.

Orange Bus Foosball

This isn’t even the most recent table, it got replaced after if fell apart from hard use!

In the short time I’ve been there, I’ve learnt a lot about Google Analytics (even taking the free Google training course—get in quick, it closes on the 30th), email tracking codes, and using Windows 8. I’ve not opened a single MS Office app since I arrived: it turns out that it’s surprisingly easy and effective to use Google Drive for pretty much everything. Well, almost everything: there’s a point where you have to use InDesign for amazing documents. I’m going to be able to be involved in the setting up of a UX Lab as well, which will be pretty exciting.

Their new fangled studio in Milburn House near Central Station is pretty cool as well. One of my first memories of Newcastle when I arrived in 2010 was in fact with Milburn House: there was an architecture tour and we nearly got locked in the building! It’s interesting from an architectural perspective as its past as a maritime building reveals itself in the floor numbering system: rather than having 1,2,3, the lifts show levels A-F just as you would have in a ship.

Interestingly, I’ve noticed a lot of companies in Newcastle advertising to hire designers, UXers, and developers. I suspect that people have no idea that it’s not ‘grim up North’ at all: in fact the digital industry is thriving and employees are thriving too on the cheap and cheerful cost of living that’s made the area a favourite student city.

So, I’m looking forward to my experiences ahead with Orange Bus. And remember, if you ever ask me what I’m doing in the evenings or weekends, remind me that the proper answer should in fact be “working on my thesis”….

[EDIT] I thought that the closest song to the company’s name was the famous Beatles song. However, it’s been usurped—it turns out there’s a fun rock ditty (I say ditty as the band have probably forgotten the lyrics now) called “Magic Orange Bus”. Thank you Youtube!

Having—and Using—an Online Basement

As I see more and more people tweeting, blogging, and having websites that are little more than redirects to external profiles, a little part of me has a sad.

sad-cat

You see, I miss the days of people having their own websites and experimenting with them. Remember once-upon-a-forest and Praystation? And all of those weird Flash experiments (back when it was Macromedia Flash) that you’d read about in books and then fervently look up on your dial-up connection? It seems to me like they’re happening a lot less now (though I will admit that a fair bit happens on Hacker News, god bless their little orange boxes).

The problem with all of these remote services is that it’s like storing lots of stuff at other people’s houses. It’s all good and well while you’re still talking to them, but one day you start moving around in different circles, and the next thing you know, it’s gone. Or someone else is living there and you can’t get in.

And how much can you do with that stuff over there anyway? If you’re lucky, maybe a bit (if that neighbour is like Jeeves or Doctor Emmett Brown—OK, they’re both fictional characters but we can hope). But most likely not. And that’s where your own basement comes in.

Dee Dee Dexter's Lab

A basement can be that random place where weird and broken stuff go. But at best, it can be where magic happens. There’s a reason that there’s a cliche of teenagers starting a band in their basement. Queen apparently played in their basement for two years before announcing themselves to the world. In that space they experimented, found their voice, and then emerged onto an unsuspecting world. Would they have found that working at other people’s gigs? I doubt it.

Still, here’s my idea: having your own hosting is like having a basement. Particularly if you can make subdomains and have a few databases on the go. In your down time, you go and mess around with ideas (just on your own, or with others), and depending on how it goes, you might run with it. You do it though because it’s there, and easy. You can go crazy with it. But it’s there. (Kinda like Annie Hall’s bug-ridden apartment, or Carrie Bradshaw’s house in SATC2…sorry for mentioning SATC2).

People such as Jason Santa Maria are known for changing over their site every few years and experimenting with what it means to have a web presence. Jessica Hische is renowned for having an idea, and in a few hours of “procrastiworking” having a site to show for it.

I’m not saying that everyone should be forced to use their own hosting. Certainly bloggers can gain a lot from using WordPress, just as photographers can get a lot more from communities such as Flickr than they’d ever get from just having a site. However, I gladly pay my $120 or whatever it is a year for hosting and unlimited sub-domains. (I admit that there are ways to work completely free using Heroku, Github and/or Amazon Web Services, but I have to admit that I’m not that good a developer).

I know that whenever I have an idea for something (like, say, a clock based on the 12 Doctors), I make a new subdomain on my site (thank you Hostgator for unlimited subdomains and databased) and start messing around. If it’s not so interesting it stays there, if it looks like more of a goer I’ll migrate it out to its own site.

And others use their basement in far simpler ways. Jennifer Dewalt decided to learn coding by building a website every day for 180 days. They’re actually not so much websites as pages, each in their own folder, but it’s a well organised basement of treasures.

All these people with their nice linky one-page sites are like houses with beautiful facades (or, if there’s a bit in there, a nice dining room and even a guest bedroom). But don’t forget about that basement. You could see the next best thing in there.

Welcome Aboard

Super Mondays: Lightning Talks

It was a lot of talks on offer for this month’s Super Mondays, ranging from being a design student to creating your own automated lighting system. What came through loud and clear though was the dedication that the speakers had to their crafts (be they day jobs or insane hobbies). The level of cross-fertilisation was also apparent as speakers noted that they had given the talks at different user groups or even locations (hi, Refresh Teeside!)

Rails Girls

Fiona McDonald

Not many in the audience had heard of Rails Girls, much to Fiona McDonald’s surprise, as she’d done a local talk at a local Rails User Group not that long ago! So apparently there’s not much overlap between audiences. She talked about the Rails Girls initiative, a series of events which started in 2010 in Finland as has now taken place across the world.

As much as she’s aware of the arguments as to whether there should be female-only tech events, McDonald was impressed at how the women/girls were able to go in knowing nothing about Rails and come out two days later (the events happen over a weekend) having coded an app, using such helper tools as Bento Box.

I’m not entirely sure if I should detail all the benefits of why it’s worth getting involved (OK, a couple of the male mentors started relationships with the girls involved—and are still together today), but McDonald pointed out that we should be doing all we can to get diversity in the rails and more general tech community (she was happy that this wasn’t one of the events where she was the only girl in the room. Oh how I know that feeling).

Code Club

Kamran Chohdry

In a perfect segue from a question to McDonald about getting to girls in schools about coding, Kamran Chohdry spoke about Code Club (yet another person talking about what they do in their spare time).

Code Club has exploded as of late. Its aim is simple: to teach coding to children in primary schools age 9-11—before IT is actually taught in schools—and “get them beyond Microsoft office”. They’re taught Scratch, Hard Scratch, HTML/CSS, and basic Python respectively over the course of a year.

The Club are looking for devs who can volunteer. This involves committing to an hour a week (in the computer lab), a CRB check (the school will usually help—and it was pointed out by an audience member that STEMNET can help you do it for free), and potentially help set up the labs with Scratch or Python. It’s also worth asking as a parent/guardian if there’s a school or Running Club nearby.

As it turned out, an audience member’s son has used a Code Club programme, won a Rasberry Pi and is now planning to become a games developer!

And apparently this is the start of a wider sea change—programming is going to be taught from age 5 up, but there isn’t necessarily the capability in schools in order to teach it.

Git, Bitcoin & Matroyoshka Dolls

Chris Price

“Who uses Git? That’s a change from a few years ago.” There weren’t quite so many that used Bitcoin, or even knew what matroyoshka dolls were (until someone else called them Russian Dolls) but never mind.

His analogy was brilliant: the concept of nesting dolls is how potentially catastrophic changes (changing values in Bitcoin, commit changes in Github) are protected in their systems. Doug Belshaw also pointed the audience to check out trybtc.com to mess around with bitcoins.

From Student to Work

David Ingledow

“Use Github”. More generally, the key theme of David Ingledow’s talk was about how students need to not only capture but share the ideas (and code) they generate. Not that Github or Git was taught at uni. Still, in his discussion of transitioning from being a interaction design student (at Northumbria, yay) to a working designer at a startup, he reflected on after all of the collaboration, preparation, and late nights, it was all too easy for graduates to let their work die post grad show. And that was a pity.

On another note, I was interested to hear what it was like for a designer to move from uni to a startup. Ingledow loves it, thanks to the ‘all hands on deck’ attitude that is needed. Given the growing startup community in the NE, it could well be that more and more grads end up in a similar role as him. Hopefully they learn Git first.

Switching to Jekyll

Dan Richardson

Going from a former student to one that is still one (but did a summer placement), Dan Richardson discussed moving to the static generator Jekyll. Most people have heard about it in dev world (and that it’s based in Markdown), if you’ve used Shopify you’d have used the liquid HTML system.

The lack of database can have issues e.g. you need to use third party plugins like Disqus or Salesforce for comments and forms, and it’s obviously not great for things like GUI text additions. Still, it has a lot of potential, particularly when you can host a small site for free on Github Pages or very cheaply on Amazon AWS.

Some other options are Octopress and Nanoc.

The related blog post is available on the Canddi website and an audience member mentioned the 2010 post by Paul Stamatiou on moving from WordPress to Jekyll.

So much to learn

Ben Cooper

How do you keep going in a world of continuous innovation and Smashing Magazine articles? Ben Cooper (who emphatically calls himself stupid but I suspect the audience would disagree) gave some of his comments from his years of experience. He asked the audience to focus and continually think of your core skills (that old ‘jack of all trades’ mantra) rather than running frantically to learn frameworks and libraries that you don’t need and don’t understand the core code.

I personally don’t entirely agree with discarding superfluous frameworks. However, I do think that it does require an understanding of what you’re doing: e.g. playing with new languages is more of a sense of awareness or seeing if something is a ‘gateway drug’ to a new type of coding. Still, his call to avoid heedlessly following trends is savvy even in other areas such as design trends (flat design anyone?).

When it comes to actually being part of the community, Cooper took the opposite track and regaled people to share (blog/speak) and be enthusiastic: “passion trumps being smart”. Oh, and to to not rise to the trolls. (“Stackoverflow, I’m looking at you.”) In this respect, he reminded me of Wil Wheaton’s mantra “don’t be a dick” and the concept of having “strong ideas held weakly” (a trait that has often been attributed to experience design luminary Don Norman). Again, his concept of having focus or doing things your own way came through: he uses twitter but just as an RSS. Which is fine. But I love using it to share and help.

Home Automation

Steve Jenkins

“Why did I do this? Because I can. Because it’s cool”. With no real logical justification to make a “smart” lighting system (it’s inefficient in all ways) but a burning desire to do it anyway, Steve Jenkins set about buying a Lightwave RF (“It was available from B&Q”) and attempting to make a system to make sense of it. Luckily, he applied for and got access to the API, but it’s still very much a work in progress… and then went down a rabbit hole of ideas and various platforms and roundtripping.

Still, apparently Geofence works reasonably well (“though when my phone comes out of Airplane Mode every morning it gets confused”).

He’s keen to see what happens with SmartThings though. He looked at Lockitron “but I figured I’d wait and upgrade my house”. John McClaire did a similar project on Kickstarter.

The hours and time to date? About 2 days spread out over time (though “with very hacky code”) and about £400. And counting….

Has it made a difference? “Well, it’s made me more lazy”.

Of course, there are questions about proprietary software: there’s a horror story of a guy in IBM replicating his house in Second Life only for Japanese and American people to turn his lights off and on at 4am! He’s used his own server and the like so thinks he’s safe—and it’s only lights— though he dis ask people to “please don’t hack my house”.

If that doesn’t put people off doing it, they were directed to have a chat to Alistair and the local Maker Space….

The Trials and Tribulations of WYSIWYG Editors

Kerry Gallagher

“You’ve all used WYSIWYG editor. They’re mainly a joke right?” With that , Kerry Gallagher dissected a commonly hated aspect of CMS and HTML development. For those of use who have never actually rolled their own editor (me!), it was interesting to see what goes on behind it.

It turns out that editing comes down to one element: ‘contentiseditable’: which is surprisingly supported back to IE5.5!

Of course, it’s not that easy: there are some bugs between browsers, particularly with undo and redo (though there are changes to standardisation).

Mozilla’s Educational initiatives

Doug Belshaw (slides)

Wrapping up the night was Doug Belshaw of Mozilla. His first slide began with a werewolf picture from Mozfest. (Wait, is it a full moon out tonight?)

He spoke about three Mozilla Webmaker initiatives.

The Webmaker project is a fun project aiming to get people (particularly children) involved with making with the web rather than just consuming with it. The projects (X-Ray Goggles, Thimble, and Popcorn Maker) are fun and a subtle gateway drug into coding. I was involved with mentoring with these projects at the recent Maker Party here in Newcastle, see my notes of the day for more on the topic.

Belshaw’s pet project in Mozilla though is web digital literacy (which isn’t surprising, given he did a PhD thesis on the topic!). There are three competencies—exploring, building, and connecting—which Mozilla and the wider community are focusing on.

Finally, Mozilla are also pushing the concept of Open Badges (a means of showing learning and accreditation in a diffused way). The project is relatively mature with buy in from Disney amongst others.

And they’ll all be showcased at Mozfest (27-29 October in London).

Thoughts

There’s an argument that put enough of anything together and you’ll see a pattern (certainly Damian Hurst’s dotted pictures played on this conceit). Still, over the series of nine talks, I noticed an ongoing trend:

  • The need to evangelise, and the wider community support that this entails. There were no less than three talks about learning and teaching. Of these, McDonald’s struck me the most as she mentioned the struggle of pushing something forward such as teaching girls Ruby whilst holding down a full time job. (In fact, she wasn’t able to launch the event herself as she was moving to Barcelona). I wonder whether there does have to be organisational recognition for mentoring and furthering diversity. Should companies be enabling and even expecting their employees to further the tech community?
  • The importance of sharing. A few speakers touched on this, or demonstrated it: certainly Jenkins’ talk on home automation led to more than one glint in people’s eyes. It also reminds me of how people always know something or know about something more than someone else (again, a mentoring principle in that unless you’re an absolute beginner, there’s someone less experienced than you that you could help).
  • The cool stuff that’s going on. OK, that’s pretty obvious every month, but still.

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 Loop.ph.

 

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.

 

Design Fiction Workshop: Getting the Story Out

This afternoon I had the opportunity to take part in a Design Fictions workshop organised by Nottingham University’s Horizons workgroup. There was a strong Newcastle connection, not only through Newcastle Uni organiser Abigail Durrant but also through Northumbria University researcher Malcolm Jones and his storienteering tools.

For those that aren’t aware, “design fiction” is a term coined by Julian Bleeker and

…is making things that tell stories. It’s like science-fiction in that the stories bring into focus certain matters-of-concern, such as how life is lived, questioning how technology is used and its implications, speculating bout the course of events; all of the unique abilities of science-fiction to incite imagination-filling conversations about alternative futures. (2009)

(One participant suggested that design fiction doesn’t necessarily have to mean science fiction as even historical fiction and other genres may investigate technologies in just as interesting ways, albeit looking backward or sideways rather than ahead).

Horizon is “charting the digital lifespan”, and the workshop focused on creating design fictions around the idea of bereavement. In order to create said design fiction, we used a number of Malcolm’s tools to orient the group towards the story and then make it. His set of resources to do so included a scenario to kick it off, a resource table, and a mapping exercise. (However, he has a lot more of them available on his site).

What is interesting about events such as this is just how much work it takes to get a story out, but also how the people in the room can make a big difference. The skillset of the people taking part ranged from usability to fashion communication and literary theory, and yet somehow the personalities worked together in a very improv-like way to easily build on or circle back on others’ ideas. While it can feel as if you’re going around in circles at first with very obvious ideas or just not getting around to the actual story, somehow it seems to come right in the last few minutes (let’s just say it all got a bit of a weird twist at the last minute … not quite Sixth Sense but somewhere in that region).

That said, one thing that wasn’t got to in the timeframe of the workshop was how the story would be presented (which was a shame). Similarly, there’s nothing like mapping out a story with a strong tech/service base to make you realise all the opportunities for technological things to go wrong  (what would happen if you got the wrong company?). Still, design fictions appear to be by their nature exploratory, so in that respect the exercise was still (I assume) a resounding success).

 

 

Newcastle Mozilla Maker Party

This afternoon I mentored a group of young people as part of the Newcastle Mozilla Maker Party at the Centre for Life.

These events are happening around the world, and are a means for people (in this case young people) to have a jump start at making the web (or being ‘web makers’ as the slogan goes) using Mozilla tools.

I was part of a group of several adults (Steve Boneham, Tristan Watson, David EastonChris Wilde as well as Mozilla organiser Doug Belshaw) helping out on the day.

I’d messed around with the Mozilla web tools a bit before, but was reminded as to how easy they are to use.

  • Hackasaurus is a saveable Firebug or Chrome dev tools in that you can edit any page on the web and make your own link of it. Fun if you want to mess around a bit with news pages!
  • Popcorn maker is basically iMovie meets tumblr as you can pretty much mash up anything available on the web.
  • Thimble is a very nice online web editor (no JS, but very good HTML and CSS including error reporting). However, the power of it (as well as popcorn maker) is that you can remix existing sites, like a very user friendly github fork.

The dozen or so young people at the event ranged from 6 years old (OK, that was Doug’s son Ben) to their teens. I was happy that there were a few girls in the group!

While a couple had done coding at school (Jamie, who I helped, told me that it involved road-tripping from Word … which to be honest terrified me a bit) most hadn’t, which made the ease with which they picked up coding more impressive. I also showed a few of them some tricks with Google Fonts (though it was a bit buggy at times) and CSS3 effects.

The full list of hacks and general course of the day is available over at the Mozilla Etherpad.

One curious thing that I noticed was that a lot of them weren’t that comfortable with using laptop trackpads, particularly right click … which made selecting image URLs difficult. (While a lot of us dev people get around that with keyboard shortcuts, they didn’t use them and to be honest most designers I know don’t either). Certainly what I took from that is that events like these need lots of mice as well as laptops available. I suspect that laptops are starting to be edged out these days between big desktops and tablets.

All in all, I think that the Web Maker project looks to be a particularly powerful way to get people up and running with making the web rather than confusing it. I’d be the first to say that my taking up the web was due to being able to sit next to people who were good at it and learn from them. The ability to remix sites hopefully allows more people to be able to do the same.

(P.S: special mention has to go to Sheela Joy and the team at Centre for Life. After too many years of developer events with terrible pizza, my heart sank when I heard we were to get that as afternoon break food. I was wrong. BEST. PIZZA. EVAR.)

Refresh Teesside April 2013 and Middlesbrough’s Captain James Cook

I’ve been meaning to get down to Refresh Teesside for a while, partly because it’s always sounded interesting, and partly as an excuse to actually see Middlesbrough. Last Thursday I finally made it.

Middlesbrough

My query about what was worth seeing in Middlebrough got some, er, interesting responses (one included “nothing”). However, I did get pointed towards the Captain Cook Birthplace Museum, which I got to via a rickety train ride. Brits may not realise that Cook is an important name in the Pacific. He was the first person to chart New Zealand (which aside from a few mistakes such as thinking Banks Peninsula was an island is incredibly accurate) and his ship Endeavour is on the New Zealand 50 cent coin. And my father is a Cook Islander, named after … well, you can guess. I hadn’t been aware that he was from Middlebrough.

Old New Zealand 50 cent coins featuring the Endeavour

Old New Zealand 50 cent coins featuring the Endeavour. The newer smaller version does too.

The museum has been recently upgraded with lots of new exhibits. While as a designer there are some bits I’m not entirely sure about, I was intrigued by the Middlesbrough haka, and impressed with their video of differing opinions of Cook across the Pacific (which are usually: impressed by him; hate the diseases he bought; or that someone was going to invade us, better it was the English rather than the French or Spanish).

Refresh Teeside

There was a buzzing atmopshere at Sassari. The free first drink didn’t hurt, of course.

Refresh Teesside April 2013

I got snapped juggling devices.

Vicky Teinaki at Refresh Teesside April 2013

The night was made up of flash talks, with speakers kept to their 5 minutes via dramatic alarms.

  • Adam Parkin debuted as a public speaker with a discussion of his photography practice, and his upcoming photography exhibition for charity.
  • Matt Kirwan discussed the good, bad and ugly of working at home as a developer. It can be a huge timesaver and the lure of flexible work can be motivating, but it can get lonely. More dangerously, you can risk burnout from working too much.
  • Bobby Robertson spoke about the startup inclubator Searchcamp that it about to open in Teessdie.
  • Jay Moussa reflected on her work as a filmmaker: is a music video she was paid to do, doesn’t like but got some traction in the media classify as being more successful than one she didn’t get paid for but had complete creative control?
  • Finally Paul Smith shared how his startup Appysnap started, failed, and is now rising from the ashes based on what his team learned. He stressed that press is a bad thing when you have a minimum viable product, to test and release, and to above all GIFRO:

For more on the talks, check out the storify of the night.

 

 

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!).