Archive for the 'Design & Art' Category

NUX4 – a roundup

October 4th, 2016 by Ian

This was originally posted at shortly after last years wonderful event. I’m going to NUX5 this Friday, so I thought it was a good idea to finally cross-post this here too, in preparation for any further coverage.

I was fortunate enough to attend a previous NUX conference, back in 2013. It was one of those conferences that I can happily say had a positive effect on my career as a UX practitioner, and so expectations for NUX4 last week (on the 23rd of October) were reasonably high.

Compèred by the ever-able Industry Conference architect Gavin Elliot in the thankfully comfortable Royal Northern College of Music, NUX4 was a full-day 1-track event. There were 600 attendees which I think highlights current interest in User eXperience both generally, and in the North specifically.


Tomer Sharon of Google kicked things off with what felt like a soap opera – complete with music to set the tone! His delivery provided a refreshing start. He told us the tale of Will and Dana, building The Facebook of note-taking. Testing with family members gave inadequate insight and they quickly found that their product completely changed after more substantial user research. Accompanying users – and their kids – into the real world and considering what problem they were really trying to solve forced them to pivot their application into a new direction. The key was to do the right thing first and then do it in the right way.

The provocatively titled Clients Don’t Suck from Jenny Grinblo was next. A tiresome ‘Clients from Hell‘ attitude has become a cliche in many design agencies and her talk was a personal highlight. Jenny offered 9 practical tips to deal with common blockers that stifle effective UX work. These were split across 3 separate scenarios: Design in the Boardroom, Nit-pickers and dealing with stakeholders unaware of what UX really is. The latter was referred to as “The UX/UI – Webmaster – Yoga Teacher – Unicorn Seeker“, which is great CV fodder, in my opinion. Within these scenarios were a range of challenges that I’m sure many of us have experienced before; My favourite was to get a user voice into the boardroom in order to trigger empathy amongst stakeholders.

Further practical advice was provided by Stavros Garzonis – this time on running Co-design sessions to bridge the client-user gap. Whilst beneficial when done right, Stavros was clear that involving all parties (users, clients and UX) in such sessions can potentially be utter chaos; hence his emphasis on the need for proper planning. He showed us the best points in the Design Councils’ ‘Double Diamond‘ process at which to conduct co-design sessions. He also suggested that the work can start outside of the workshop: besides creating templates to support exercises, users could prepare stories beforehand.

Alberta Soranzo reminded us of the power of Design to change behaviours. She lead with the story behind the artificial inflation of diamond prices throughout the last century and the increased worldwide popularity of engagement rings. One tip was to check out the Behaviour Change Strategy Cards. After lunch we were provided with further historical context by Connecting Digital to Analogue. Brian Suda reminded us of the benefits of paper that still exist today; He took us through a range of projects that have tried to combine these benefits with the obvious benefits of the web. My favourite example was the pocket map that allows for smartphone-esque ‘zooming in’. Brian really likes paper!

Interusability: Designing a coherent system UX for connected products looked at how mental models from older hardware could fit with new devices, like smartphone apps. Whilst I’m sure it wasn’t intentional, Claire Rowland left me less trusting of interconnected products like home heating/lighting systems than I had been. We were reminded us that the little printer hardware (referred to fondly by Brian in the previous talk) had now been rendered absolutely useless by the death of the company responsible for it. Claire looked at user expectations and how to deal with the ‘interstitial’ states when designing for the IoT by giving appropriate feedback. She advised us not to just copy the visual appearance of the physical hardware, but to instead play upon the strengths the device.

The final topic of the day was from Sara Wachter-Boettcher: Everybody Hurts: Content for kindness. Treating the time a user spends with our work as if we are “spending their heartbeats” is a great attitude. Sara used personal stories to illustrate how interactions with users could be improved – particularly in form design, where every field carries weight and making assumptions about users doesn’t always constitute “designing with kindness”.

My take on this was that whilst sometimes commercial pressures can affect such thoughtfulness, where it can be considered then it should be and all visitors will appreciate their heartbeats being ‘saved’.

This was a rather emotional and honest talk, which I felt fit well with the whole day. If there was a theme to the conference it was this ‘warts and all’ openness without any of the ego that one sometimes finds at events like these.

Overall the day felt incredibly worthwhile. This conference was run by the team of volunteers that make up the Northern User Experience community and was supported by sponsors across the industry. It continues to be asset to the community that we see developing across this part of the country. Slides from all the talks can be found on the NUX4 website.

The Digital Barn

February 12th, 2012 by Ian

When I heard a couple of guys from my local WordPress user group were arranging a conference in their native land of Barnsley, I didn’t imagine that they’d rustle up such a great group of speakers. It’s great that people are willing to turn out and support these small, grassroots events either by speaking, arranging or simply attending. Matt and Kimb created a website for The Digital Barn and it’s such a pretty, clean and tidy responsive design that I hope they get to use it again for another event. Despite looking like a couple of rather pissed-off bouncers, Matt and Kimb are actually really friendly guys and the success of The Digital Barn is a tribute to them. Nice one fellas. So what did I actually learn yesterday?

Barnsley DMC

Barnsley Digital Media Centre

Doing something is better than doing nothing

Jonny Allbut gave us a load of advice on successful freelancing and most of it quite practical. I felt, that those of us who don’t work alone would do well to remember some of this though: The importance of unclear responsibilities in a project, keeping expectations at manageable levels and the need for constant communication between all involved.

Troll IE


The Microsoft Corporation supplied one of their minions to apologize to us about the abomination that is IE6. I’ve seen MS people talk before, often under the Ubelly flag, and typically Martin Beeby gave a very smooth presentation. He, like his colleagues, is under no dillusions about IE and compared working to promote IE like “running PR for Garry Glitter”. He made it clear that things have changed, in some ways. The complacency MS displayed between IE6 and IE7 (although I think in fairness, between IE6 and IE9 might be more accurate) is a thing of the past and IE10 (and 9) is chocka with standards-friendly features like the Appcache, SVG filters and the pointer API. Martin said the browser market is at its most exciting right now not just because of the the competition between the main 5 browsers but because of the collaboration companies have shown. Obviously, things aren’t perfect but they are better than they were.

One point that I think MS people sometimes miss is that it’s one thing having comparable features in browsers, but it’s another thing all-together ensuring that these features can be implemented consistently. I think a great example of this is implementing a linear gradient with opacity using CSS3. It’s great that you can now do this in CSS but if you look at the difference between doing this in Firefox and Webkit (with a nice tidy rgba value) and IE9 (with a confusing 8-digit hex code… thing) then it shows there is still one way for IE and one way for everyone else.

Craig Burgess had a simple message: build something. Nothing is pointless if you’re enjoying yourself and even if you’re creating a website full of pictures of cats in sinks, then there is the potential to learn something which you can take away and use commercially. He stressed the need for ‘devsigners‘ and ‘designopers‘, true cross-aisle skillsets. Titles are not important, nor is using the latest tech just because it’s the new hotness. What’s important is building stuff. Here, here. Incidentally, I think his website is pretty awesome so this experimenting, building silly toys and breaking stuff approach obviously works.

Some strong, relevant advice about building for the web

The command line isn’t a natural platform for a presentation, but Tom Hudson’s talk on writing Testable PHP seemed very comfortable there. His ascii sheep made a refreshing change from Powerpoint slides. In all honesty, he lost me after a few minutes. The world of unit tests and what have you is a little bit beyond my knowledge, so I won’t make myself sound more stupid that I already am.

Bruce Lawson gave the sort of presentation that could only be given by, well, Bruce Lawson. Bruce spoke at a Speak The Web event a couple of years ago, so he’s obviously a firm friend of the grassroots conference. Back then his talk on HTML5 video really grabbed me and I’ve used those techniques many times. His work on HTML5 Doctor, in my view, has helped make it one of the best developer resources on the web so if Bruce wants to make the talk all about him, then he’s earned that right. He expressed his initial doubts about the HTML5 spec because of Hickson, the “benevolent dictator” of the spec, and his personal attitude towards humanitarian eugenics. This was unknown to me and makes for some uncomfortable reading.

Assistant technology hates ambiguity

However, his opinion that HTML5 is bad news for accessibility (a11y) has since changed. HTML5 not only ‘paves the cowpaths’ but also provides so many features for the developer to work with. The example Bruce gave of autoplay in the video tag is a good one: Of course having a video play automatically is a bad for a11y (it will shout over any screenreader), but the fact that developers can all use one technique to autoplay a video is actually good news for a11y. This is because developers of screen readers now know how to consistently disable autoplay, rather than guess one of several thousand combinations of javascript-based autoplay mechanisms a web developer may have used previously. Also, nudity.

Matt Brailsford didn’t talk about Umbraco (the CMS which he is a great proponent for) but instead Knockout.js – a javascript library to help with building applications. This was a very practical presentation and it’s probably best represented on his blog, where he gives a step-by-step guide through a number of simple examples.

Everything you know is wrong

A conference without some controversy can sometimes just be a big old congratulatory backslapping exercise, so it was left to a couple of the speakers to bring us all crashing down to earth.

What these two said struck a particular chord with me so I think I’ll write about them later in the week as what they said probably requires a bit more thought in order to do them justice. Thanks again to the Digital Barn lads (and Barnsley DMC) for giving us all such an opportunity.

Google get social with Plus & pretty themselves up

July 10th, 2011 by Ian

There have always been a good number of reasons for using different Google services, aside from the price. GMail gives us many gigabytes of IMAP-accessible email. YouTube: HD streaming video. Maps: a powerful API and a photograph of every pavement in Britain! But one area that Google has always been a bit lacking is in producing attractive UI design. Functional, yes. Pretty, no. But over the past couple of weeks, that has all changed.

Ripping off Facebook?

Obviously it’s been a big month for Google because of Google Plus. This is, without a doubt, a social network with the ability to take down the mighty Facebook. The similarities are so obvious that I don’t know how they can get away with it. Facebook’s best features: wall posts, galleries, etc. are all there and in the same place as on Facebook. One way it distances itself from Facebook is in the privacy settings. You no longer have to share absolutely everything with absolutely everybody. I can finally ‘befriend’ my mother! Adding someone to a ‘family’ circle, for example, means that they won’t necessarily see absolutely everything you post. Of course, in my opinion, no Zuckerberg is also killer feature. I trust the giant faceless Google even more than I do the rather dodgy Facebook figurehead. I think maybe just because at the very least, I can take my data from the service whenever I want. Google+ is a great service on it’s own merits though, and now part of an increasingly well tied together package. There is still a lot of work to be done: For example Google are telling companies and organisations to hold off creating accounts for now and hear is actively disabling non-individual user accounts.

You'll be seeing this black bar a lot from now on

You'll be seeing this black bar a lot from now on

Regardless, the visual feel of the place does not feel half-done and Google have rolled out a simliar new look and feel across all their services. From Calendar to new GMail themes, the new styles are an improvement across the board and help tie everything together.

YouTube gets love too

Cosmic Panda Youtube mascot

The Cosmic Panda mascot

Another large part of this aesthetically pleasing drive is the somewhat oddly named Cosmic Panda. This is billed as a “new experience” which provides a less cluttered, clearer YouTube experience. It’s the little features that I like most: The simple pointer cursor when you hover over the scrubber – making accurately picking the time to skip to easier. Full-page-width video is shown by default, so there is none of that silly loading a video, clicking once to make it grow to a reasonable size, then a wait for it to re-cache the video at another quality setting. User channel pages (such as this) are also more visually pleasing, although the aspect of the video thumbnails seems like a bit of an odd choice. 266px by 100px? What sort of a ratio is that? It leads to some very odd thumbnails indeed.

I also like the feedback they’re running on this. It allows you to click on each part of the page you have an issue with and leave a note. This works really well. So well that it’d be nice if I could take a system like this and use it with clients (nudge nudge, Google). Choosing to be part of Cosmic Panda will change things globally, so all YouTube video pages you visit (no matter where from) will have the new theme applied. Unlike the other refreshed interfaces that Google has forced upon us recently, this is optional. My recommendation is give it a try, it only takes one click to set everything back to how it was.

All in all, good work Google. They have done the UI design equivalent of the girl in the movies who takes her glasses off and suddenly we all see that she’s not just smart, but pretty as well.

If I understand Google+ correctly, you can follow/befriend/whatever me on the service here.

Undercity by Andrew Wonder

May 24th, 2011 by Ian

The 1st to watch out for is not hitting the third rail [..] the next thing you have to watch out for is not being hit by trains and the third thing you have to watch out for is not being seen.

Wombles ain’t got nufin’ on these guys.

Giraffe-zilla will devour us all

October 31st, 2010 by Ian


Artist Shuichi Nakano’s “Searching for Paradise” paintings depict Godzilla-sized animals towering over the urban sprawl of Japan.

via Pinktentacle

8-bit takes on the snowboarders

July 13th, 2010 by Ian

It is, I believe, rather gnarly. Yo.

BP Oil Exec portrait by Mike Mitchell

June 13th, 2010 by Ian
BP exec by Mike Mitchell

BP exec by Mike Mitchell

A well timed portrait by the talented Sir Mitchell.

Gluaaaghhhh! building

June 8th, 2010 by Ian
Tom Hine contextual-face

Tom Hine - Contextual-face, Bristol

Ekosystem, via Wooster Collective

T-shirt war

April 6th, 2010 by Ian

Painful to think how long this took if you take the printing process into account as well as the filming. Via Adii Rock Star.

Collection of Tokyo HDR shots

March 29th, 2010 by Ian

The Yakitori-ya Fort

Many of the shots have much higher res copies available on Flickr, so be sure to click through.

80 HDR Photographs of Tokyo en at (via Gruber)

Flickr flow visualises the seasons

March 14th, 2010 by Ian

An algorithm was used to calculate the colors in pictures uploaded to Flickr. The resulting diagram highlights the prevalent colors across the seasons. Pretty.

Flickr Flow

Flickr Flow (via Kottke)

Vanishing Point

March 10th, 2010 by Ian

This video by Takuya Hosogane is like a hundred Winamp Visualizations (remember them?) crammed into one 100 second video. Amazing.

More of the same at

Damn the illusion of movement. Damn the illusion of movement to hell!

February 24th, 2010 by Ian

Don Hertzfeldt is a genius, and this has been proven time and time again to be fact. I just found this new (to me at least) video by him, The Animation Show. There is an awesome robot battle at the end and the 3d sequence sure beats Avatar.

The ‘videogioco’ experiment

January 31st, 2010 by Ian

I’ve seen plenty of innovative animation before, but nothing quite like this. Drawings on paper are usually restricted to the paper they start on, but this video is very mobile.