Aphorism 54

19 July 2011

Nudge is not enough to change behaviour on its own. Sometimes you need to bribe and threaten people too.

Flip Chart Fairy Tales (introducing his blog post, Nudge is not enough on its own)

Interesting elsewhere – 5 July 2011

5 July 2011

Things which caught my eye elsewhere on the web

  • Adrian Short » Blog Archive » Designing with the Delete key Getting rid of all the clutter on your website doesn’t require a great deal of design insight or technical skill. But it needs a lot of discipline. So once a day just delete something that you can live without and you’ll be working towards a faster, cheaper, simpler website with much happier users.
  • One Hundred & Forty Characters « Chris Floyd: Clean Living Under Difficult Circumstances. Whereas Facebook seems to allow the user to construct a perceived or projected existence for themselves through the deployment of various convenient aids, Twitter just strips it all away and leaves the user with nothing but the utilitarian tool of 140 characters and the imagination of language. Over a sustained period of time or patch of ground you are always going to betray yourself. By that I mean that you will, layer by layer, reveal who you are and this will continue to be an ongoing and ever revelatory process. Other users will continue to be attracted to that or not, and vice versa. It’s really quite binary, whilst being relentlessly deep and wide, which I like. A lot.
  • On the shifting of control of personal data – honestlyreal My point is that strange things will start to happen in terms of operational continuity and completeness. There will be “gaps” in databases, where the personal data holders used to be. Instead of their information, there will be links and interfaces to the data they control for themselves. Will this create all sorts of headaches and risks just by itself? Enough to seriously dampen any service provider’s enthusiasm for adopting volunteered personal information?
  • BBC – About the BBC: BBC Online – Putting Quality First First I want to explain what we consider to be a “product”. It’s a self-contained entity within BBC Online, which unites technology and editorial to meet a clearly defined audience need. Each product has a simple and concise proposition that’s easily understood by the audience, is kept up to date, fits the overall strategy for BBC Online and has clear editorial leadership.
  • designing online social security for the future | New Technology Observations from a UK perspective (NTOUK) I’ve long believed, based on experience, that if you’re going to get current and future plans to work, you need to understand the past and what has worked previously –and what has failed. And why. Much has been learned over the past 15 years. In looking at where social security is heading over the next few years with the major DWP Universal Credit programme, I first took a brief look back over the past 15 years of trying to use online services to modernise and improve the design and operation of key public services.
  • Schneier on Security: Yet Another “People Plug in Strange USB Sticks” Story People get USB sticks all thetime. Theproblem isn’t that people are idiots, that they should know that a USB stick found on the street is automatically bad and a USB stick given away at a trade show is automatically good. The problem is that the OS trusts random USB sticks. The problem is that the OS will automatically run a program that can install malware from a USB stick. The problem is that it isn’t safe to plug a USB stick into a computer. Quit blaming the victim. They’re just trying to get by.

More than usually interesting elsewhere – 23 June 2011

25 June 2011

The publication of this post was delayed by the FBI. Not a sentence I ever thought to find myself writing, but these posts are generated from Pinboard bookmarks and the Pinboard server was accidentally impounded by the FBI when they were apparently looking for something else. The cloud is a curious place, where sometimes it rains. My confidence in Pinboard is enhanced rather than diminished though – Maciej Cegłowski did a near perfect job of managing recovery while being open and informative at every step.

Things which caught my eye elsewhere on the web

  • The importance of being insubordinate | Blog The lesson: the conventional attributes of the well-functioning big organisation –aligned team; clear big picture vision; organisation dedicated to following the leadership –can lead to some horrible mistakes.
  • Grasp the Intranettle « We Love Local Government I want you to open up a new window or tab and go to your intranet page.Take a look around. Drink in the sights, the attractions, maybe even dive into a new area or two and take a look around and try to find out about something new. [...]
    I’m guessing there were some notices from your chief executive, maybe some links to some basic business information and probably something up there talking about the impact of the cuts. If you took the chance to delve below the surface I would put money on the fact that before long you found something very simple which was significantly out of date, wrong or just didn’t make sense.
  • niksilver.com » Even government beasts benefit from experience Alpha.gov.uk might be at the far end of the scale from UC in terms of size and complexity, but that’s one core principle that’s important. You change your system by doing work on it, learning, and feeding back into the next phase of doing. And it’s true for the way you work, too: you do something, feed back, and do more — but this time, better. Just because you might be able to improve it doesn’t mean those first steps are fundamentally wrong.
  • 30 user experience quotes to warm your soul | Econsultancy “It’s not enough that we build products that function, that are understandable and usable, we also need to build products that bring joy and excitement, pleasure and fun, and yes, beauty to people’s lives.”
  • iMessage, Skype, Google Voice, and the death of the phone number | This is my next… I hate phone numbers. They’re a relic of an outmoded system that both wireless and wireline carriers use to keep people trapped on their services —a false technological prison built of nothing but laziness and hostility to consumers.
  • 11 Blogs to Help You Become a User Experience Expert | Resources In today’s web design world, so much emphasis is put on SEO, which forces us to design for machines. Even though this is a necessity for web designers, the focus of a design should be on that of the user – the breathing, typing, mouse clicking kind of user. The user experience (UX) design portion of the website building process is often overlooked, usually due to a lack of knowledge in the area. Luckily, there are UX focused blogs out there that are loaded with info, tips, and insights that can help you in your journey to becoming a user experience expert. Here are 11 of the best.
  • Sarah Lay » Blog Archive » CitizenSarah reports So there it is. Six months in the life of this citizen. I’ve come out of it quite disappointed with how poor most online information is and frustrated in attempts to complete digitally because processes just don’t support it. There needs to be a massive change. I don’t think alpha.gov.uk will do it – not because what they’ve showcased so far isn’t great but because however shiny you make the front end if your back office system or process is flawed then it will fail. I don’t think public sector organisations are thinking like this yet, they are still thinking that if they get something, anything, online a magical web monkey will do the rest.
  • Seth’s Blog: Share your confusions If you’re building for digital, for a place where you can’t possibly be present to guide or to answer questions, I think it’s vital you have someone who can review your work. Same for instruction manuals, secret ballots and road signs.Not to make suggestions to make it better (what do they know?) but to share their confusions.
    I don’t think that’s a phrase, but it should be. Share your confusions is a way of asking someone to dissect your work and point out what’s not totally clear.
  • Seth’s Blog: The future of the library Librarians that are arguing and lobbying for clever ebook lending solutions are completely missing the point. They are defending library as warehouse as opposed to fighting for the future, which is librarian as producer, concierge, connector, teacher and impresario.Post-Gutenberg, books are finally abundant, hardly scarce, hardly expensive, hardly worth warehousing. Post-Gutenberg, the scarce resource is knowledge and insight, not access to data.
  • Sketching our way to Alpha.gov.uk | Alpha.gov.uk team blog We’re road-testing an approach and, should there be a beta, we’re not going to just sit down and add more stuff to the site. It’s an alpha, and its value lies primarily in what we can learn about our assumptions, approaches, and practice across all our disciplines, and in making sure a beta would be better.

Aphorism 53

10 June 2011

If it needs a sign, it’s badly designed.

Don Norman

(prompted by Michele Ide-Smith mentioning him and Catherine Howe giving an outing to the wonderful word “affordance”)

Aphorism 52

8 June 2011

That’s the problem with being trained to see both sides of an argument, you can see both sides of the argument.

Penny Neu

Civility in service

7 June 2011

It really is quite simple.

If you wouldn’t have said it before there were social media, don’t say it now just because there are.

If you work for an organisation, don’t be rude about its leaders, products or policies in public.

Don’t imagine that online anonymity is an invisibility cloak.

If you work in the public sector, social media does not remove the politics from the politically contentious.

None of that is new. None of that should be even faintly surprising. There are ways in which online is another world. These rules are not among them.

But it still happens. Civil servants should understand the constraints they accept as part of the job. They – and everybody else – should understand the limitations on public speech (not quite the same thing) which are part of the deal.

Now there is reported (from a slightly unlikely source) a new case of somebody allegedly using twitter to make inappropriate political comments.  As reported, that sounds remarkably like the Civil Serf affair in 2008.

Why is this hard? The excuse that social media are too new for anyone really to know the rules is wearing a bit thin.  But I do think – as I wrote last time some of these issues came up – that twitter can be particularly beguiling, precisely because it plays so many different roles:

For twitter in particular, there is a very strange collision of contexts. It is like being in the pub with some friends, being at speakers’ corner shouting at (and being heckled by) random passers by, being on the Today programme, being on Big Brother, and throwing a message in a bottle out to sea – all at once.

But while that may explain, it does not explain away or justify.

In the end, it really is quite simple.

Interesting elsewhere – 3 June 2011

3 June 2011

Things which caught my eye elsewhere on the web

  • How Alphagov might change UK government for the better – The Dextrous Web Addressing 80% of users’ needs compellingly and ignoring the rest is a sound principle of design, but government can’t do that. So, if we’re to use Apha.gov for the 80% –which we should –we need another solution for the 20% of people who have strange or complicated needs. My solution would be a call centre full of wonderful, informed people who care and can make decisions. But that’s a whole other blog post.
  • Jimmy Leach: Is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office a brand? I’m not sure that concepts of authority a a couple of rampant mammals around a portcullis is what a brand is made up of. There’s a lot more hinterland to a bran than a logo and a sense of expertise.
  • Thinking more about Twitter, Chatter and knowledge worker pheromones – confused of calcutta If everyone tweeted and everything tweeted, soon all would be noise and no signal. As Clay Shirky said, there is no such thing as information overload, there’s only filter failure. In other words, information overload is not a production problem but one of consumption.

    This is important. Too often, whenever there is a sense of overload, people start trying to filter at the production point. In a publish-subscribe environment, this translates to asking the publisher to take action to solve the problem. My instinct goes completely against this. I think we should always allow publishing to carry on unfettered, unhampered, and that all filtering should take place at the edge, at the subscriber level. There’s something very freedom-of-expression and freedom-of-speech about it. But it goes further: the more we try and concentrate on building filters at publisher level, the more we build systems open to bullying and misuse by creating central bottlenecks. Choke points are dangerous in such environments.

  • McKinsey and Co – Simon Caulkin Today’s iconic example of the wrong thing consultancies are doing is the mass production of services. The ubiquitous front- and back-office service design, with its inevitable accompaniments of outsourcing/offshoring, shared services and central call centres for dealing with customers, is pure Fordism, with the assembly line replaced by computers. Despite the IT, such white-collar factories are just as obsolescent as Henry Ford’s auto plants, offering no incentives for system improvement and increasingly alienating customers. The Web 2.0 ‘solutions’ where the ‘leading-edge conventional wisdom’ now resides and to which (no coincidence) the big consultants are now transferring their sales hopes, suffer from exactly the same drawbacks and are no more the ‘answer’ to performance issues than was Web 1.0.
  • Product Management and the public sector.. « Digital by Default
  • Designing for illiteracy – a mass market accessibility challenge | disambiguity Think about mission critical tasks. Things that, if not done right, could hurt people or have significant negative impact on people or business. Don’t give people a blank box to fill in when you’re designing these tasks. Give options (in words, not icons). Let people recognise and select, don’t make them remember how to spell stuff.
  • Agile as the process – Digital Optimist I think of UCD and Agile as working together on a sliding scale. To the left we have the known, where UCD and Agile are in the trenches together solving problems as they go and adding incremental functionality. On the right side of the scale we have UCD and Agile working in a different configuration where Requirements and UCD provide more shape and detail before the development process begins and Agile delivers the output once everyone understands the shape and function of the application. The fact that this doesn’t often occur doesn’t mean it isn’t the right process to follow.
  • Opportunities lost – AlphaGov | disambiguity It is certainly true that historically, Agile and UX have had a fairly vexed relationship but these days many practitioners are experienced and adept at including both user research and ux design into the most demanding agile iterations. We have a toolkit of lightweight qualitative research approaches that work beautifully in this kind of fast paced and responsive environment. UX does not have to be a laggard either at the outset or in the throes of an agile project.
  • 10 things Alpha.gov.uk gets wrong (Part 2) | Helpful Technology It’s not Alphagov’s fault, of course. But there are limitations on what you can do as a skunkworks team, owning the user experience but not the process which gives rise to it. To deliver on the promise, Alphagov needs to cultivate a sort of orbit of ?product managers who successfully impose great UX on unpleasant reality; part crusader, part human shield around the Alphagov principles.
  • Identity Assurance: 18 May 2011: Written answers and statements (TheyWorkForYou.com) Online services have the potential to make life more convenient for service users as well as delivering cost savings. However, currently customers have to enter multiple log-in details and passwords to access different public services, sometimes on the same website. This involves significant duplication, is expensive to operate and is highly inconvenient for users. It acts as a deterrent to people switching to digital channels, hampers the vision of digital being the primary channel for accessing Government information and transactions, and provides an opportunity for fraudsters.
  • Economies of scale There is an alternative. Short contracts provide a natural pressure on service that contracts never can. Instead of choosing a single “best of breed” imagine if they set a quality threshold and a maximum price, but allowed more than one supplier (as Tescos ensures many yoghurts are available) –ensuring the pressure of competition. But I don’t expect any government department to try this more sensible approach any time soon.
  • Alphagov in Action « Digital by Default In fact my biggest worry about the project is its sustainability. I think a brilliant ‘demo’ has been built by very talented and experienced team. However they are not a team who are going to stick around for the long haul of turning things into a production service. If things are going to move forward who is going to replace this great team? Is government going to need a proper in-house multi-disciplanary web team (like say the BBC or the Guardian)? If that was to happen given the current limitations on recruitment would you get people of anywhere near the same caliber?

Aphorism 51

1 June 2011

[Large companies] fear disruption far more than they do destruction. They push the decision to innovate back because things are OK today.

George Buckley, chairman and chief executive, 3M

Saying goodbye

27 May 2011

Many years ago, I used to work with somebody who in a previous life had been a restaurant manager. One of the lessons she had taken from that experience was how to say goodbye.

At the beginning of a restaurant meal, people are where they want to be. They are there for an experience, and nobody expects, or even particularly wants, things to happen instantly. Understanding  and ideally matching the customer’s preferred rhythm is part of the service, but there is typically quite a lot of flexibility about exactly how and when different elements of the service are provided.

At the end of a meal, by contrast, people are in a very different mental state. At the point they decide they are ready to leave, any delay or obstacle to their actual leaving is a problem which affects their perception of the entire experience.

The lesson my colleague had taken from that is that there were precisely two steps in the entire experience of having a meal in a restaurant where it was essential to respond immediately to a customer request: when they asked for the bill, and when they were ready to pay it. Everything else had some flexibility, but not that.

In a broader sense, the maturity and self-confidence with which any kind of service provider manages the end of a relationship is one of the most powerful indicators of their overall approach to service quality. Putting effort into helping people to arrive is an obvious and easy thing to focus on (which is not at all to say easy to do well). Putting effort into helping people to leave, and to have faith that that is not only the right thing to do but that it will ultimately help rather than hinder the success of the business is neither obvious nor easy.

Meanwhile, Paul Clarke is ending his ten-year relationship with his mobile phone provider. It didn’t go well.

On track to nowhere

23 May 2011

There has been a lot of work in recent years on ways of improving the process of public consultation. It’s not something about which I have any great expertise or direct involvement, but I am conscious of great efforts to produce consultation material in forms which are not just useful and accessible themselves, but which make the process of responding straightforward and flexible, allowing respondents to express their views in ways which make sense to them. But it seems there is still quite a way to go.

There have been proposals to redevelop Battersea Power Station since Margaret Thatcher was prime minister. Every few years, a new developer announces an exciting new master plan with a Big Idea and says that development will start the following year. Then the money runs out, the site is sold, and the cycle repeats.

The Big Idea of the current lot is to get Battersea Power Station connected to the underground. That isn’t quite as daft and hubristic as it might sound. The Northern Line has a loop at Kennington which allows trains on the Charing Cross branch to head back north without reversing and TfL increasingly operates the Northern Line with all Charing Cross branch trains terminating at Kennington and only City Branch trains (which can’t use the loop) continuing to Morden. So adding a stub on to the loop to take the line on to Battersea doesn’t change the basic topology of the system and, at least by the standards of tube construction, it’s relatively cheap.

This is not the place to consider whether any of that is at all a good idea – London Reconnections is the authoritative site if that’s your bag. I am more interested here in how people find about and respond to the proposals, though admittedly with a less lofty purpose of being bemused about the priority of building a fourth tube station ten minutes walk from my house when I have a choice of three already.

If you were dimly aware of the proposal and wanted to find out more, what might you do? Well, the TfL home page would be an obvious place to start, and helpfully it has a big box at the top inviting us to see the Tube Update Plan. Clicking that gets us to line-specific options, and clicking that gets us to… no mention of this whatsoever. No matter, perhaps it’s not yet part of the plan. Looking round the site a bit, there is a huge list of projects and schemes, but none of them is this one. But if you are really persistent, you might eventually find a press notice announcing a public consultation on a proposed Northern Line extension.

Having found the equivalent of the locked filing cabinet in a disused lavatory, it all gets a bit odder. If you go to the press notice page now, you will find a link to the consultation site operated by the Battersea power station developer. But that link wasn’t there when the press notice was issued. The press notice talks about 40,000 leaflets being distributed to local residents and gives details of exhibitions of the plans at various places in the affected area, but says nothing at all, either in the body of the notice or in the notes to editors about the existence of a consultation website (and the version on the consultation site still doesn’t have so much as a link). That in turn meant that coverage of the story focused on the leaflets, with no mention of online information even in online coverage.

And so eventually to the consultation website. The first thing we might want to know is what is actually being proposed. And there is a link on the home page to the documents area:

See our Downloads section for a complete list of informative documents and maps about the Northern Line Extension.

Splendid. What might we find there?  Well, this:

Which of those might I possibly want to read? I have no idea. And this, remember, is a consultation aimed at residents, not at engineering professionals.

But there is also the consultation leaflet, the one being distributed to those 40,000 local residents. It is, perhaps not surprisingly by now, a pdf, which precisely reproduces the paper version, right down to the instructions to moisten the gummed area when returning a response. And while the response form consists of check boxes and a few short free-entry text boxes, the pdf hasn’t been set up to allow it to be completed with anything more high tech than a biro. There is, to be fair, a version of the questionnaire on the site, but only of the questionnaire. Would it really have been so hard to make six more A4 sides of pdf into proper web pages?

The central question in this consultation is

We propose to proceed with Route Option 2 (Kennington-Battersea Power Station via south Nine Elms). What do you think of this option?

This is apparently the result of an earlier round of consultation a year ago. There is no indication of what the other options are from which I am being invited to endorse a choice. But the leaflet does say:

Maps of all four route options as well as more detail on the current proposals are on our website:

After some poking around, I have found the four route options, not directly on the site, but as another pdf download (though not on the download page), this time of last year’s consultation paper. I can find nothing at all giving any more details of the current proposal.

I have laboured all of this probably more than the example is worth to make a point. None of this is impossibly difficult to find and use, but none of it is as straightforward as it could be and should be. If there is a serious desire to collect and respond to views, there are better ways of doing it than this.

And now, since I am one of the lucky 40,000, I will take my pen and the nice glossy printed version of the consultation and do my best to answer the really key question.

Nine Elms? Battersea?