Smartphoneless: day 1

My HTC One X has been sent off for a warranty repair which for some reason takes 7 days. In the meantime, I have shunned the loan of a second hand iPhone 3G in favour of the trusty Nokia 6301, a true powerhouse of a Symbian handset.

I’m the person who lives by his phone. I’m the typical London smartphone user. I’m a 24 year old male who works in the digital UX sector. I use it to see when the next bus is going to arrive at my bus stop, find my way with Google Maps and tweet my annoyance about how long the next bus is going to be. So for this week, I will be back in the dumbphone world. Calling, SMS and WAP will be my tools for navigating 2012. 

And this isn’t just some hipstery-shoreditch-post modern experiment. When we design mobile experiences, we shouldn’t discount the large portion of the dumbphone owning market. If we follow the process of inclusive design (which we do, as it’s awesome), then it’s important we don’t exclude a large portion of our end users. 

Dumbphones are predicted to make up just 10% of the market over the next 2 years, but don’t just discount that 10%. SMS can still be a powerful medium, just look at Kenya. The SMS based money transfer company M-Pesa revolutionised mobile payments and transfers in Kenya and had 17 million users in December 2011. 

So by the end of this week, I’ll hopefully be able to show what it means to live with a dumbphone in London in 2012. Let’s see what services I am missing out on, and if there are any surprises.

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I’m not a UX designer, I’m happily ignorant

Well known London UX’er and Sapient Nitro chap Boon wrote this powerful blog post earlier this week. In it, he attempts to give an honest aprasial of his and his companies UX activity, as well as discussing how though he can imagine a great user experience in his head, he sometime lacks the research and iteration to back them up.

NB: There is also a much more structured response to Boon’s blog here by fjvwing, but read mine first.

It helped me clarify some thoughts which I have been having lately. I often can’t even imagine a great user experience for a given situation. If I get brought into meetings for my UX knowledge, I feel (and possibly look) a bit of a fool when I don’t sketch out a seamless UI or magical app environment straight off the bat. As far as I’m aware, I’m no an interaction designer. Yet I get the feeling this is what people are expecting, this my be my professional paranoia though.

At this point, I should elaborate on my own position. I’m happy to admit that I’m new to the UX field. Up until 4 months ago, my job was an Account Exec on a European autoshow programme. I’d been interested in UX for about a year previous, and was lucky enough to be able to make the move across inside my current agency.

I’ve found that it’s not an easy field to get into. For one, there is a lot to learn. I made a list of all the theory i’d need to get my head around and the books I needed to read. It read like an undergraduate degree programme.

To complicate things more, UX’ers love to critise their own field by writing articles along the lines of “Forget everything, UX is shit” or come up with new models and processes for what essentially is, still a human centred design theory. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to be part of such an active and new community, but as a newbie, it’s a bitch to try and keep up.

So my lack of overall knowledge means that I won’t come up with the next Path because frankly, I’m not a digital designer. And likewise, when I’m asked in a brainstorm session ‘What do 24 year olds do”, I don’t know, because I’m not every 24 year old (I mostly listen to the Archers by the way).

But I’d argue this is a good thing. It makes me humble. It dosen’t scare me to say ‘I have absolutely no idea’ . Admitting I don’t know the answer doesn’t fill me with dread. On the contrary, I find it empowering. My absolute hero Richard Feynman puts it better than I ever can;

“I don’t feel frightened by not knowing things. It’s much more interesting with not knowing than to live with answers that might be wrong.” Feynman

To put it in a UX context, when I’m asked to find out the process people go through to purchase a new car, or what would be the best platform for an app, I’m not tainted by past experiences. I’m not going to jump to assumptions.

The key is, don’t pretend to know what the answer is, but I know how to find it out. I don’t know what platform the app should be based on (if any platform at all), but I know how to research to find it out. I don’t know what 24 year olds do, but I know how to talk to them and find out what they do.

So like Boon, I’m not a UX designer. I don’t know how to design a great user experience (yet). What I am is a research led person. Without the research, the iteration, the usability testing, I struggle, but I’m ok with that.

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Windows 8 Made Me Cheat On Google

When I entered Microsoft’s Victoria offices last Friday, I was as in love with my HTC One X Android phone as I had been the day I bought it. 6 hours later however, I left the glass corporate palace with a deep seated resentment and loathing for it.

The culprit, was the startling realisation that after I eloped with my Google phone, email account and assorted tablet devices a few years ago,  Microsoft had gone to the gym, got in shape, had her hair done and brought a designer frock, she looked amazing. Over 6 hours, Andrew Spooner, head UX bod on Windows 8, delivered a whistle stop tour of Windows 8 and my jaw very seldomly left the floor.

The workshop concentrated on the UX aspects of the new Metro UI which represents the biggest departure for Windows since the 3.1 > 95 jump. From how it started, being inspired by Airport wayfinding signage to a thorough overview of each animation available to developers and UX’ers. It was also a detailed introduction into the world of Windows Store apps, which is looking like it might actually be useful, and beautiful. With each app conforming to the same fonts and overall layout, it should be a true unified aesthetic experience for the end user, which is of course, the whole point.

Also, there will be no faux wood surfaces here thank you very much. As Andrew described it, Windows 8 is an authentic digital experience. They’re not out to make the ebook app look like a bookshelf, because, it’s not a book shelf.

Some of the most interesting points I took away:

Wayfinding Signage Some of the biggest inspiration for Windows 8 came from transportation wayfinding signage. As Andrew said, it is (or should be) the cleanest and simplest signage there is.  This is the approach Microsoft have taken to Windows 8, they’ve stripped back all the chrome and let the content tell the story.

New York Subway Sign

Kindly used from Ifranz’s Flickr under Creative Commons

No Tabs One thing that quickly became apparent through the demonstrations, was that like a hobo bar, Metro doesn’t do tabs. Instead, the content becomes the navigation interface. As you can see from the Endomondo example below, there are no separate tabs or windows for the different aspects of the app. Instead, the user swipes to the right for more content. It’s a beautiful interface to use.

Endomondo Windows 8 App

App Templates Microsoft have provided numerous app templates for Photoshop on their dev site. There are also animation templates and an entire of library of resources in Visual Studio for develops. This all goes to mean that you’re not having to start from the beginning, Microsoft have done alot of the work for designers and developers already.

Semantic Zoom Hands down one of my favourite features of the Metro UI. Windows has the ability to group content when the user zooms out.

Windows 8 Semantic Zoom

Showing the same information, but in a different context


Live Tiles If you’ve played with a Windows phone, you’ve come across live tiles already. They’re going to play a big part of Windows 8’s Metro UI. They provide a really quick way  to get information from apps, but unlike widgets, they follow the unified Metro look so, unlike Android, aren’t horrendous to look at.

So there we have it. I’m no developer, or digital designer for that matter, and I know there is a lot of skepticism about the Metro UI / Windows 8 in the community at the moment. I’m not really qualified to comment on that, but I do know that the Windows apps for Metro are looking like they might a game changer. Together with a unified Windows experience across devices, Microsoft might have got this one right. I’m now off to see how much I can get for my Android on eBay.

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My Pain Experiment: Day 2

“Next test is five a half minutes, are you ok?”. ‘Just bloody wonderful’ I wanted to reply, after all, how good can you be when your stuffed into a meter long tube surrounded by electro magnets. 

I had gone for my first session of the trial. It didn’t involve any tooth work, but I had to have a series of MRI scans for the control part of the experiment. For those non-science readers, this is basically a picture of my brain whilst I’m not in any pain for comparison. 

I, like most people, had never been in an MRI scanner. When I told my friend Tracy about the experience over coffee the next day, I was surprised to hear that she had done it numerous times. Upon questioning this overtly healthy 20 something on what could have possible led to this, she proudly informed me that she got £100 a shot at university to be a test subject. Knowing what I know now, it seemed like a good deal.

I’m not claustrophobic in the true clinical sense, but after an unfortunate childhood experience at a Victorian museum, I wasn’t too keen to get potholing any time soon. This particular museum was keen to make their childhood servitude exhibits as realistic as possible, going so far as to recreate a Victorian house chimney for visitors to climb through. Suffice to say that if this has been a job interview with Bert, I would of been back in the poor house. 

With this in mind, I wasn’t greatly looking forward to my 2 hour MRI experience. However, I eventually found it surprisingly relaxing. As you probably know, it’s incredibly loud inside an MRI scanner, but the bangs are repetitive and tend to form patterns so that your brains starts to ignore them. So then, you’re left with your own thoughts for 2 hours with almost no one to talk to. I’d never had so much time to myself. 

I’ll be back in a week, but in some pain at that time. 

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Down the “Cash Is Cool” rabbit hole

I was in my home town of Grantham for yet another funeral, it’s all I seem to go back for lately. Whilst wandering the unnervingly quiet streets, I made use of one of those cash machines which has adopted the space once owned by a payphone. I withdrew £30 which all appeared moments later in £5 notes. Bizzare I thought. I was about to take my money and leave when an advertisement on the screen caught my eye. I did a double take. “Cash Is”? Really? We’re still using the word ‘cool’ in marketing? 

It was precisely this poor choice of phrase which made me visit afore mentioned site. If you also wander to ““, you’ll find a bizzare, disjointed array of content ranging from dated flash games. “Funny Videos” (sic) and B-list celebrity interviews, all tied together with the catchy tagline “Cash, it’s part of your lifestyle”. 

After a good snoop around, 2 things struck me as odd. Firstly, cash is an odd thing to be campaigning about. Have you ever been in a situation where you have been unable to use cash and forced to use a “predatory card scheme” (sic)? No, I haven’t either. However, CIC helpfully summaries their main aims in their “Charter for Cash” (is it just me, or does this sound more and more like a cult the deeper we go):

Charter For Cash

  1. Payment by cash must ALWAYS be possible and convenient, for any product or service, whether assisted or self-serve. 
  2. NO extra charge should ever be made for cash acceptance. 
  3. NO discount should ever be offered for non-cash use. 
  4. The consumer’s payment preference-OUR RIGHT TO CHOOSE-must always be the paramount. 
  5. Financial Institutions MUST circulate ALL denominations of cash in appropriate quantities to ensure the ease and convenience of cash transactions.

Sounds pretty vauge doesn’t it. What made my bullshit detector go off was “Our right to choose”. I see your motive now, CIC is one of the people, fighting for my rights as a consumer. Jolly good show.

However, my congratulatory tone was silenced when I noticed a second oddity. Go on to any campaign website, infact, any website at all and you will find an “About Us” page or similar. No such info exists on CIC. If you were a genuine campaign group, would you not want to be shouting who you are from the rooftops?

2 days later I find myself sat in a dreary backstage office in Brussels with time to kill and decide to find out who is really behind CIC. The website itself didn’t make this very easy, which made me even more suspicious. The investigative trail went something like:

Companies House>Google directors name>Bank Machine selling company

Website hosting company>PR company>PR company website case study for Bank Machine selling Company

I doesn’t sound very dramatic now, but my personal triumph did make me feel like Sherlock for a short while. 

So what? you made ask. Man who sells cash machines wants more people to use cash. Granted, it’s not exactly the Watergate scandal, but it did get my back up a little. 

Firstly, I don’t think websites like CIC should be allowed to exist in 2012. It’s full of awful, AWFUL content. It gives the internet a bad name.

Secondly, and more importantly, CIC sells itself as a campaigning against the big evil Mastercard and Visa and fights for the little guys. Even if we overlook the glaringly obvious fact that every card inserted into one of Bank Machines has one of their logos on, it’s still a front. Bank Machines sells pay to use cash machines which seems to go against the CIC ethos somewhat. 

I’m no berating Bank Machines for making money at all, nor do I scold them for using some innovative marketing, infact I applaud it. I just wish it had been done better and more honestly. I accept that there many indeed be an issue with the reducing acceptance of cash payments, even though I haven’t experienced it first hand. Though, if your going to campaign about it, perhaps be a little more honest and open about who’s doing the campaigning. 


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My pain experiment: Day 1

My colleague thought I was mad when I explained why I needed 4 separate days off to remove my wisdom teeth, a procedure normally done in one go. “You know it’s the most painful thing in the world right?” was one helpful remark.

When I first visited the dental department at Kings College, my initial consultation was quite standard., Then on my return from the x-ray, I was deposited with another dental surgeon who it turned out, was in the middle of her PHD thesis on how pain is processed in the brain. It turns out that she was using wisdom teeth extraction patients for her research and it dawned on me that it was probably unethical to cause people pain for medical research.

The process was to work as such:

Local anesthetic> remove tooth> wait for anesthetic to wear off and pain to start> get canulated and get in MRI> constantly rate pain on scale whilst MRI tests are performed> when pain reaches certain level, IV paracetamol is administered> scans show what happens in my brain

Pretty cool eh? As soon as the research was explained to me, I was sold. I had been growing increasingly interested in science and the scientific method in the last few years. Ben Goldacre had been shouting about controlled trials and peer reviewed studies so much that I snapped up the opportunity to take part in one.

I’ll be documenting the trial on here. Mostly for my own sanity.

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The story of a teapot, twitter and a job offer


It only took 6 months in a sales job to make me realise that it wasn’t for me. I was working for a small family owned company who offered logistical supply services for the marketing industry. My job involved travelling to marketing agencies and selling my wares. The job was good experience and most of the 2009 graduates were still on the job hunt, but in many ways it was like working at Dunder Mifflin. I quickly realised that instead of visiting the young, funky agencies, I should be working for them.

Alec Browstein was a real inspiration to me. If he used adwords to get his dream job, why couldn’t I do something similar?

This realisation posed a number of problems. Firstly, I had no marketing degree. I had studied politics and given this was around graduation season, I was competing against hundred of marketing grads. Secondly, I had little marketing experience, aside from the small campaigns I had run at my previous job.

So despite having (and I don’t mind blowing my own horn here) a pretty substantial CV for a 22 year old, I realised that sending the a CV and covering letter wasn’t going to cut it. It was then that I started thinking creatively and strategically.

Through my previous job, I had a pretty good grasp of the marketing sector and knew that the major agencies were all in London. Having visited many of them, I realised that with my experience, there would be little chance of getting anywhere. Since I would be investing my time and money into this personal marketing campaign, I decided that it would be more efficient to target my hunt elsewhere.

Looking at regional agencies, I created a list of 5 that I would love to work for. These were places that I had either previously visited so liked the environment, or places where I had connections to exploit. Starting one at a time, I began with a medium sized agency in Nottingham that I knew of previously. It had good clients and a solid reputation, not to mention a cool office. I then selected my target, one of the partners who seemed from the website to be the ‘creative’ partner, as opposed to the ‘business’ partner. This would be important for my unconventional approach.

The companies homepage had a video about the organisation with vox-pops from key staff members, including my target, answering questions such as “What do you first do in the morning”. It quickly became obvious from their responses that tea was a big deal in this company. This would be my ammunition.

My campaign was taking shape, I had my target (George), the objective (to get an enjoyable job), my weapon (the offices love of tea) and my plan. The execution went like this:

1) The website.

I set up a site. If you haven’t come across this excellent service, then it is basically a personal landing page with tools that make it easy to make a professional looking page. It pulls together your online identity into one place, such as Linkedin, Twitter, Facebook etc. I then purchased my own domain name ( This had the effect of immediately pushing my site to page one on Google and gave me kudos with searchers.

2) The package

Direct mail for those not in the know, is a term used in the industry for letters and packages sent to you to promote products and services. It gets a bad wrap sometimes by being branded as junkmail. It can however, be amazingly effective and beautifully executed, such as these examples and this excellent Google mailer . Since this was the industry my previous company worked in, my knowledge of the area is pretty good and without any technical skills (animation etc), this was my best route.

Using the tea idea, I got a teapot, a box, tissue paper and a small blank card. I packaged the teapot nicely and printed the card to read:

Can I pop around for tea?

On the site in a large font was a url addressed to George. On following the link, it took you too a pdf letter explaining my situation and what I was looking to do. I then posted the parcel, sat back, and waited.

A week went by and I heard nothing. Coming from a sales background however, I knew persistence was the key. I went back to the shop and brought myself some biscuits, wrapped them up with another card and this time a hard copy of the letter. Still no reply for another week. I was starting to think this wasn’t going to work so to show my social media prowess, I tweeted George and included a shortened URL to my page:

I then waited another week. I was starting to give up hope when I received an email sent through my site:

Success! What followed was an hour-long phone conversation, a first meeting with George and eventually an excellent job offer with a part funded marketing qualification thrown in. George’s feedback was that the amount of creativity I employed got me ahead of the 30 marketing graduate CVs he received that month and didn’t even contact back. It turned out however, that what made him email me was the tweet. This showed him that I had a true grasp of the market and how important it is to integrate campaigns.

It wasn’t to be though. A friend who worked at a top London agency sent me details of an entry level position working with one of their major clients. So after all that work, I was stuck between taking the job I had spent so much time and effort into getting, or moving my life down South and working for a top London agency. It was a great position to be in, but choosing between two jobs was also incredibly hard (though a friend likened it to the deciding “whether to wear the Prada or Gucci shoes” level of problem). In the end I decided the London job was too good an opportunity to turn down.

It’s a year later and it was definitely the right decision. Working for such a big agency has given me tons of experience very quickly and my team travels all over Europe with is a bonus. London is also a great city and I have met some amazing people.

The whole experience showed me the importance of job hunting creatively to make yourself stand out. Posting teapots all over the country might be over the top but the message is clear, a CV and covering letter just doesn’t cut it in this job market. If you truly want your dream job, you better starting thinking outside the teapot.

*Special thanks go to Holly Kennedy for her excellent design skills

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