QR Codes, Crochet and WiFi

I’m not the No.1 fan of QR Codes. This is in part fuelled by how these barcodes, made up of square dots on a white background, look ugly and awkward on printed designs. And also in part as a result of how rarely I am actually pleased to have scanned the code. The outcome is mostly disappointing at best! But I will concede that despite my hesitance to embrace QR Codes, they’re not going away any day soon. And thankfully, they are gradually being implemented in more creative, compelling and useful ways.

I’m also not a fan of repeatedly reciting my home WiFi details. For the bandwidth-hungry always-connected generation, 3 or 4G is not enough. Immediacy is the Holy Grail, and so requesting WiFi details on entry is becoming no less of a formality than ringing the doorbell.

So I was intrigued with the recent article, “Generate a QR code with your WiFi details that you can frame for easy access” by Alex Wilhelm. In his article, Alex suggests: “generate a big QR code, frame it, and have your friends scan at their leisure to snag your digital network’s information. “ This article got me thinking. Could I bring two of my frustrations together to create something beautiful? Hell yeah! Alex has inspired me to go create some QR Code artwork.

There are numerous QR Code generators, all creating barcodes that are pretty darn dull and soulless. But they needn’t be…QR Codes can be pimped.  Helped by a 30% tolerance in readability, there’s plenty you can do to pimp your barcode whilst still keeping it scannable by the average reader. So how do I pimp my QR Code?

Well, thanks to the street artist Olek, I have a newfound respect and appreciation for the craft of crochet. Olek crochets everything, from bicycles and furniture, to entire rooms.  The tenderness of the fabric provides the perfect backdrop to the harsh technical nature of the QR Code. The wonderful contrast between the technologically created code and the love put in to a hand-made item of crochet, makes for a perfect partnership.

Lucy Salter has already showed us that readable crocheted QR Codes can be created. [see pic]. I want to take this further to create a multicolored piece of crochet QR-Code artwork to hang up in my corridor. And even if no-one uses it, it’s still a powerful statement…”I’m a little nerdy, a tad artsy, and yes, you can use my WiFi.”

[Plead] All I now need is an expert at crochet. If that’s you, please get in touch and let’s make this happen?  [/Plead]

To freelance or not to freelance, that is the question

As 2012 draws to a close, I must admit that I am somewhat befuddled. Everything seemed so straightforward in August. I want to work on strategic head-hurting customer-led challenges that facilitate true business transformation. The way I saw it back then, is that having the freedom and control to select what I work on would be the way to achieve this. So I decided that after over 15 years of permanent employment, 2013 would be the year I go freelance. Sounds simple, eh!

There is no shortage of agencies with ambitions to transform businesses, but in reality most are simply designing what their clients ask for. Freelancing therefore felt like the obvious career choice, putting me in control to work on those projects, both strategic and tactical, that drive real business value.

And then the confusion began.  As I shared coffee, beer and lemsip, with friends, and friends of friends, in senior roles across the industry, they reliably informed me that this work exists in regular supply for permanent employees. The challenge is in knowing which agencies have built strategic relationships with their clients and are having grown-up customer-led conversations. As these encouraging and tantalizing conversations continued, I started to question, to freelance or not to freelance? 

I have simple needs, to deliver great experiences that make a real difference. To freelance or not to freelance may be a red herring. Both offer the kind of work that really fires me up. The clear advantage of going freelance appears to be having more control over what I work on, and therefore increased likelihood that I’ll work on those things I love doing.  Maybe I am suffering the career equivalent of a midlife crisis, as I consider trading in a secure and enjoyable career for a sexier but riskier model.

To be continued…

Another Festive List

How could I not follow-up my previous post with yet another festive list.  This time it’s the turn of those albums in 2012 which quite simply, did it for me.

In no particular order…

Silent Servant – Negative Fascination (on Hospital Productions)

The Caretaker – Patience (After Sebald) (on History Always Favours The Winners)

Terrence Dixon – From The Far Future Pt2 (on Tresor)

Actress – R.I.P (on Honest Jon’s Records)

Wolfgang Voigt – Rückverzauberung 6 (on Magazine)

Andy Stott – Luxury Problems (on Modern Love)

Death Grips – The Money Store


Dear Santa, all I want for Christmas is

… a bona fide music discovery service.

I hold online music services accountable for a generation raised on full-fat musical dross. These online services boldly proclaim ‘we will help you discover great new music’ but when we give them license to recommend, they provide more of an apologetic sideways shuffle than an Indiana Jones style adventure of musical-discovery.

The digital era has changed the musical landscape. Aspiring and established artists can produce and self-publish their music with relative ease. More music is being produced than ever before. I whole-heartedly embrace this shift in the musical landscape but at the same time this demands these so-called music discovery resources to up their game and rethink the role they can play.

I Imagine a conversation with John Peel…

I start by telling him about my favourite tracks of now and yesteryear. John listens then puts a finger to his lips, whispers shhhhhhhh, and slips me a music recommendation.  It’s not the same genre, a labelmate, similar tempo, an album with a Pitchfork rating of 8.6 or above, or something my friends like, but a potent mix of his indisputable music knowledge and his intuition of what would tickle me.

So Dear Santa, please bottle up John Peel to create a truly sophisticated and meaningful recommendation algorithm that exposes the good people to some of the truly amazing music being made.

What The Killing taught me about Social Media

My school report always read “Richard is easily distracted.”  I was ahead of my time. 30 years on critics debate whether we’re the distracted generation or the engaged generation!  Whichever it is, we know that technology is affecting our attention as we adapt to the new world  As a fully signed-up member of the distracted generation, I celebrate my attention (or lack of) by vehemently switching between screens and attempting to handle more than one task at the same time.

But on a Saturday night this all stops for two hours. Sarah Lund demands my attention and she gets it. As the complex characters and plot unravel in the Danish-language crime drama,  a wee glance at my Twitter stream and a killer piece of the puzzle slips by in the subtitles. For those few hours I sit mesmerised. I disconnect from my hyper-connected world for 120 minutes. I don’t Tweet. I don’t Facebook. I don’t reply to emails.  I don’t even make myself a cup of tea.  I  just sit back, focus and enjoy.

And do you know something? Everything is just A-OK. The world goes by a few hours and I deal with it. People say stuff, and I’m not the first to hear it . And no-one ran screaming because of my absence from the Socialverse!  And when I did come to read the information that had passed, well, it was still relevant & interesting.  I didn’t return to a world so different to the one that I left a few hours earlier.

The Killing has taught me that Social Media can survive without me. More importantly I can survive without Social Media. Well, for a few hours at least.

Are you serious about your personas?

There are hundreds, if not thousands of articles on the persona creation process, debating the merits (or lack) of personas, contrasting the different research methods applied, through to beauty parades of how a persona is documented.

Often what gets overlooked is the art of adoption. How do you ensure that any in-depth research you invested in creating the personas gets integrated in to your design work and you don’t simply end up with a document that sits gathering dust? My cynical self has witnessed persona creation as a checkbox in a so-called customer-led design process, with no real appetite to ensure they play a pivotal role in the design of something useful.

We need to talk more about how we ensure that our personas are adopted. I don’t just mean noise in the twittersphere or rambling posts such as this, but as a step in each project’s experience design process. Ouch!

Defining your Persona adoption plan & tactics should be a key step right from the outset of your persona creation process. Do not be afraid to include it in your plan – it’s essential. This won’t take long or bust the budget, but it’s important to put this topic high up on the project’s agenda to drive the value that personas will deliver if embraced and adopted by all the stakeholders.

There are three parts to this:
• Format and style of the deliverables
• Key success criteria for the chosen format
• Rollout plan for communicating the personas to your stakeholders

First up you need to agree on the format for communicating the persona. Anyone that stands by his or her persona document template regardless is doomed to fail. We need to understand the needs and behaviours of the stakeholders too, to document the persona in a way that is compelling, memorable, and most importantly – one that they will use.

With a format chosen, be it poster, document or video – you need to identify what criteria to evaluate this deliverable by. All that Infographic trickery that is creeping in to personas doesn’t necessarily create an engaging and compelling story. How you ensure you achieve a realistic quality by using say, a first voice narrative, is essential. You also need to have these conversations upfront to ensure you organize the appropriate resources. For example, which storyteller supremo will be adding a sprinkling of fairy dust to make your persona narrative more compelling? I’ll pen a separate post on this to discuss some interesting work I’ve been doing to improve Persona Recollection.

When the documents have been carefully crafted to represent the personas, typically they get emailed around the team and/ or dumped on the project portal. Maybe they also get stuck on the walls. That’s not good enough. You need to work hard to ensure they are effectively communicated to all stakeholders. I recently heard of one company hosting a Mr. & Mrs. type quiz over a boozy after-hours meal to communicate their personas. The next day as the team shrugged off their hangovers they could recollect the personas in intimate detail! Be creative in what you do to ensure the entire team really take them to heart, not just you! This doesn’t happen by chance, you need to plan for this.

It’s simple. Before you jump straight in to the persona creation process, stop and plan what needs to be done to ensure they are effectively communicated and adopted by the team.

Frans Bak, the unsung hero of The Killing

Last night the Danish crime drama The Killing (Forbrydelsen) came to a nail-biting climax. Over 30 hours of gritty storylines with skillfully crafted and understated characters concluded in an epic harbour scene. The superb performances will win awards, the knitwear will enter folklore, and the name Sarah Lund will be forever remembered as the great sweater-wearing TV crime solver.

However, the unsung hero off this three-season drama series is undoubtedly Frans Bak. The soundtrack has been instrumental in the success of The Killing, bringing an added dimension and depth to this drama.

The music is menacing, edgy and evocative without over sensationalizing the scenes or distracting from the gritty realism.  Frans Bak reminds us of the importance of a soundtrack to create a truly immersive TV experience.

My personal favourite is the haunting theme for Theis and Pernille (Series 1), an incredibly evocative theme that stirs up emotions every time I hear it. Whether it’s the urgency of the theme tune to the closing montage or the desperation of Sara’s piano (Series 3), Franks Bak is a true master of atmosphere.

This is the perfect stocking filler, a wonderful soundtrack to transport the listener back to the dark edgy world that Sofie Grabol has enthralled us with.

If you want to purchase this soundtrack then why not buy from HMV and don’t support the tax-dodgers.

Favourite read of 2012: Make Space

I received “Make Space: How to Set the Stage for Creative Collaboration” just weeks in to 2012, but nearly 12 months later it still remains my favourite read of this year.  We all recognise the importance of the space we work in and how it impacts how we work, but too often we don’t do anything about designing or manipulating our environment to nurture creativity and bring out the best in people.  Fortunately based on the work at the Stanford University d.school and its Environments Collaborative Initiative, this book leaves you with no excuse for working in an uninspiring environment.  This isn’t theoretical mumbo jumbo but a practical get-off-your-arse-and-go-do-it book that tells you all you need to know to go build the perfect space to support creative collaboration. You don’t need big budgets or to be a skilled craftsman to create some of the furniture. I’ve applied several of the lessons to improve the space that I work in and yes, they’ve successfully fuelled creativity.  If I can do this with my limited and somewhat comedic DIY skills then so can anyone.

Make Space pays for itself immediately in the value it brings. And the book is beautifully presented too. The design and style of the book is inspiring and engaging, with a wonderful cover design of people spread out across an industrial concrete floor, laying out the letters for the title.  This book sat proudly on my desk for most of the year, until it disappeared.  This proves what I’ve always said > “Crap books stay and gather dust, great books always disappear.”

But why listen to me …  ”If you are determined to encourage creativity and provide a collaborative environment that will bring out the best in people, you will want this book by your side at all times.”—Bill Moggridge, Director of the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum.

So if you are in charge of arranging your office space, get this book and let your space make a difference to the way that you work.

If you want to purchase this book then why not buy from Alibris and don’t support the tax-dodgers.

Design With Safety In Mind

The street is full of pedestrians hunched over their phones, bumping awkwardly into other morning commuters. As they stumble through crowded streets these mobile users are blissfully unaware of the impending dangers.

Using a hand-held mobile device while walking is having a significant influence on pedestrian safety. 

As our lives get busier and apps get richer and more engaging, distraction injuries will rise.  We are bombarded by information and surrounded by playgrounds of choice. Becoming distracted has never been easier.  Our savior to the perils of distracted walking lies with a new breed of applications and devices built with our well-being in mind, to makeus more aware of our surroundings by alerting us of unsafe situations such as oncoming traffic.

Welcome to Safety-Conscious App Design.

There is a new generation of apps that have launched with the right intentions – to help you keep one eye on your surroundings, whilst you use your mobile device.  Type n’ Walk is one of many, which uses the rear camera to give you a forward view of the world so that you can text safely. Combined with your peripheral vision you will have enough visual information to walk the streets safely. Well, that’s their claim.

Whether apps like Type n’ Walk are a genuine aid to our well-being or are more likely to alert us to hazardous dog doo than an approaching vehicle will be debated. But what is important is that apps are starting to care about our safety.

Safety-Conscious App Design occurs both intentionally and by chance. Take Snackr for example. Snackr reads out personalized news headlines in bitesized chunks. Users can listen to Snackr to get their news fix and still scan the environment.  There is a growing trend towards apps that read out content, such as Tweetspeaker. But Audio alone is not without its dangers. Many recorded pedestrian-vehicle collisions occurred when headphones were being worn.

As the ‘always-connected’ generation becomes the ‘obsessively-connected’ generation it’s unlikely that we’ll put the mobile down quite yet.  New applications need to consider this. Safety features in the occasional app may just become default functionality in all apps. Apps will be developed with an in-built ‘walking’ mode.  Technology will also become more sophisticated, and in the future our devices will be able to detect vehicles or people approaching (or even fountains!). Mobile devices with embedded sensors will allow applications to understand the environment around them and therefore be used to avoid accidents.

And all of this really does matter.  What’s important is that we consider how people use their mobile devices. We need to design for people, for real-world behaviors, and for real-life scenarios.  We need to understand the environment and craft experiences for context. And if users’ interactions are putting them into potentially dangerous situations then we have an opportunity to help.  We can deliver the tools and features for users to achieve their goals safely.

[originally posted on my Typepad blog but mysteriously all my posts disappeared, so re-posting in this new space]

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