Thursday, 30 August 2012

Critical of your own professionals? Know how to do things better?

It's all very well if your clients criticise as you always feel that they don't know what they are talking about in tech/design/interactive terms, bless them. But when your own colleagues start criticising, it's a bit like a road-rage flashpoint! Let's try and learn how to deal with some of this criticism to make life easier. Plus remember, this sort of undermining of a team or team members and its consequences is the project managers' responsibility too. You'll turn a blind eye at your cost.

If you don't think this can be a problem for you, see how many are happy to point the critical finger. Many are fellow developers. See for a plethora of criticisms. Clear, short content is king at, and problems with social media icons are explored in

There are, of course, good design tenets that we all try to follow and often the criticisms are well founded but what happens when you are aware of the tenets but circumstances stop you applying these? Then the criticisms cut deep.
Phil Sturgeon's recent blog, Understanding Circumstances, is a refreshing, albeit straight talking (meaning here, full of expletives), response to such tech criticisms that will make you grin. Do look at it. Understandably he provokes quite a few honest replies too. He wants critics to think about the circumstances the iMedia product is created in because those affect the performance and design whatever the developer might want to use as an alternative. He appeals for sympathetic understanding of the constraints people might be working under that can lead to such poor end results.

So, we have those that need educating about good and bad design tenets who can benefit from all the advice available as per the first set of links we suggest above, and then we have those that know but are not allowed to apply the tenets because of the circumstances arising from the business field they are in, the stakeholders' or clients' power over them etc. We think this is valid info for anyone in the iMedia field. Yes, let’s understand more before we point fingers.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Escape to the country

Hello from deepest darkest Rutland: England's smallest county; beautifully rural, nicely quiet and with only a whiff of silage.

Yes, ATSF and its domestic staff (Elaine and I) have moved. Time for a change.

So, you are no-doubt asking, how's the connectivity? For haven't we heard that Rutland (and rural UK in general) is basically end of the queue when it comes to handing out bandwidth?

It's been an interesting couple of weeks and we spent one of them with only a slow GSM data connection on my iPhone as a means of getting online. BT (bless them) had my new phone line waiting when we arrived but, for some unknown reason, Demon (my ISP) weren't able to order my broadband until the phone was active and then it was going to be another week. I have a suspicion that if I had ordered BT broadband then they could have been synchronised but I need a static IP address and I've been a Demon customer almost since they started. There is a local contender, the very interesting Rutland Telecom, but they can't help me at the moment. In the end I had a hurried conversation with Demon ordering the broadband while I was literally in mid-move part-way up the A1.

As an aside I should add the Rutland is being connected in the next 12 months, by enthusiastic payers like Rutland Telecom and, presumably even BT, so I may yet see fibre to the bathtub around here. At least, Demon tell me that my local exchange (Cottesmore) will be unbundled in March.

The email about the broadband arrived bright and early after exactly a week. I had some trouble setting up the wi-fi (stone walls do not a good RF path make) but finally got it all sorted. The ADSL connected up once I sorted out the new login credentials and I was back online. I have to tell you that coincidentally the past week has been just about the worst for spam that I've ever had. I call it being spam-bombed. When I got to my mail on the computer I downloaded over 1500 emails of which only about a dozen were real ones. Talk about wheat and chaff!

At this point I decided to check my bandwidth. I'd checked earlier with both BT and Demon online and found that the speed should be about 7.5 megabits so when I did a real speed check I was surprised to see it hitting 2 megabits. I'm only 100 metres from the exchange (and 50 from the pub). Reading the small print on an email Demon sent me (dug out from beneath a pile of that spam) I found that I had been put on a package with the ominous letters '2000' in the title. A capped package? Nobody told me. After a somewhat assertive call from me they are looking into it.

Meantime, the hosting company for one of my main clients decided to move machines between data centres. (Experienced readers will see what's coming.) On restart both of the computers holding the main databases failed and when one was replaced and rebuilt my database didn't seem to be working. Without an online connection, I spent a frustrating time on the phone to the weekend support desk but between us we could find nothing wrong. Nothing in the error logs. It turned out that there was nothing wrong: the database was fine; the problem lay elsewhere. It was what we used to call finger trouble back in the BBC.

You'd think that moving in August would be uneventful? How's your week been?

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Content and flow – isn’t that what it's all about?

It's been a while since we took a hard look at the initial stages of interactive design. Like other things this has changed radically. Defining content used to be the forgotten area unless you were working on interactive training where the outline and detailed design phases used to dominate. But defining the content for all types of interactivity has become a major phase of design. Now we have information architects (IA) who organise content and flow of a website, based on some principles that can be articulated, that have been derived through evidence gathering. (Martin Belam, Inside the Guardian Blog, Feb 2010.)

As well as information architects, jobs have asked for data architects, business architects, solution architects, technical architects and so on. Yes, I hear you, what about user experience (UX), where does this fit in? This has had an explosion of people flocking round the candle flame of UX as supply has out-stripped demand for the skills. Cennydd Bowles decries the watering down of his chosen profession and warns of the demise of UX in his 2011 Summit presentation at Colorado, The rise and fall of User Experience. It's a well thought through and heart-felt article that's worth a look. He comes down on the side of "obliquity", creating personal value, and long-term goals and quality rather than being enslaved to the measurable, quantitative, short-term goals of business and usability that dominate the profession now.

Let's move on to the tools employed by IA/UX people to define and refine the content and flow of interactive applications. How many of these do you recognise and when might they prove useful? Card Sorting, site maps, wire frames, user journeys, funnel diagrams, content audits, task models, prototyping, and so on. If you haven't recognised many of these tools perhaps you can get your company to buy a few IA/UX books or Kindle formats. There are many available that get supposedly good reviews. You can check these out at Amazon such as: So IA and UX seem to be in a state of flux despite being skillsets that are in demand. But from my point of view, anything that has put the spotlight on the initial design of content and flow has given tremendous value to iMedia. We need to heed Cennydd's perspective though and learn from the master so that these invaluable disciplines continue to add lasting value.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Business versus Creativity – is that the issue?

The new acclaim that Alfred Hitchcock's film, Vertigo, has got by being voted by the critics as the Best Film Ever, has made me wonder. See Will Gompertz's article on the BBC web site. It's over 50 years old and in fact there is only one film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, that is post 1965 in the top 10.

Well, it's the critical acclaim part that we need to consider. Traditionally, business people have had a clash with interactive media people because the business lot say the creatives don't understand business and just push the envelope of technology for their own reasons not for business reasons. There is a potential clash and we have to admit to it. The iMedia creatives want to display how well they are being innovative and using the latest tech/gizmo/software enhancement and so on. This is what they are judged on by their peers, so all should understand their drive. However, they are meant to be utilising their knowledge for the clients who have their business drivers.

There's the conundrum. Do you try to play to the critics/peers, or do you follow what is often seen as the humdrum day-to-day churn. This isn't straightforward since the clients change their opinions on what will work best for their business by seeing how innovative twists can make the difference for their competitors. Then we get to another conundrum: do the clients take a risk or do they play safe.

In the end, it seems that like attracts like. So clients that are happy to take risks in the sector are attracted to the iMedia companies that demonstrate their innovation and creativity. This will be shown by their client list, their products and by awards. Clients that want (or need) a more stable offering and are less risk-averse will seek solid companies with a reputation for delivering sound products.

Now if you as an individual are not happy with what role you are fulfilling, is it that you are not in the right company for your own drivers? Where do you fit in this conundrum?

Pity the developers of the software that (either through a programming error or a configuration error when it was set up ... just what isn't known at the moment) went spectacularly wrong for a very risk-adverse financial services client and cost them $440 million in forty minutes trading last week. See this item in The Register. Bet the fall out there is going to be awesome! This may well be considered one of the humdrum parts of our sector but the consequences show the enormous responsibilities that can weigh in. Imagine the fall-out across other financial service clients and their demands on their developers after that! Is this your company's sector? Good Luck with that.