Why I ♥ emoticons

I use my mobile phone much more than I use my landline (to be honest the only reason I have it is for broadband) but overall the number of calls that I make has reduced significantly. Despite this I find myself communicating with family and friends much more nowadays however the shape and format of our communication has evolved.

Text messaging, WhatsApp, Instagram, Skype, Facebook, Twitter and Vine each provide me with a different way of sharing thoughts, moments and ideas and allow me to communicate in a way that makes the most sense at the time. However, I don’t always find it easy to convey reaction and emotion without voice or face-to-face interaction and that’s why I’ve become partial to using emoticons to add that little bit more when I feel it’s needed. If I put a smiley face in a message it means that you made me smile.

New Year in Cologne

I spent three days in Cologne saying goodbye to 2013 and welcoming in 2014. Just before midnight on New Year’s Eve we went outside onto the balcony of my friend’s fifth floor apartment and watched the spectacle from there. We’d heard that there were likely to be a lot of fireworks at midnight but we were stunned when the 360° citywide colourful light explosion hit the sky.

Whilst there we also made a visit to Kölner Dom, Northern Europe’s largest Gothic church (I still say it doesn’t look real) where we climbed all 509 stone steps up the spiral staircase (not easy when people are also coming down!) for a panoramic view over the Rhine and the city.

Looking up at Kölner Dom

Kölner Dom

During the trip I drank my fair share of Kölsch, the locally brewed beer that is continuously served until you place a beermat over your glass and spent a great afternoon at the Museum Ludwig viewing the city’s wonderful collection of modern art.

Barbara Kruger installation at Museum Ludwig

Barbara Kruger installation at Museum Ludwig

Weekend in San Francisco

On a recent work trip to San Francisco I had the pleasure of a two day weekend in the city which was awesome! I’d had been just two months earlier for another work trip so I already had a rough idea of the layout of the city and I couldn’t wait to get going.

After a couple of days of bad coffee I was keen to uncover those little places that the locals head to so I used my trusty Foursquare app to locate some nearby coffee serving establishments. First stop on Saturday morning was farm:table located on Post Street where I had fabulous eggs on biscuits with bacon and Roast Co. coffee from Oakland California.

Eggs on biscuits at farm:table

Eggs on biscuits at farm:table

Like many of the food and coffee places in San Francisco farm:table uses Square Register to accept payments on an iPad and I was excited to try it out. I paid with a pre-paid cash card and it was easy. The printer wasn’t working so I had my receipt emailed to me which was actually far more convenient as this way I couldn’t lose it!

Next I took a bus all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge and beyond to Fort Cronkhite, a former World War II military post located in the Marin Headlands on the edge of the Pacific Ocean. That was the end of the line and I just stayed on the bus for the return trip (a bargain way to see the coast as it only costs $2 for 90 minutes of travel on the Muni bus network!). I got off at the south side of the Golden Gate Bridge and walked back over it and then kept going.

View of the Golden Gate Bridge from the bus

Golden Gate Bridge from the bus

I walked all the way down Alexander Avenue, through beautiful and sunny Sausalito looking out to fabulous views of Angel Island and beyond. I continued via Bridgeway to the Marin City Bus Hub making a quick pit stop at Drake Avenue (well, of course!) where I waited for the Muir Woods Shuttle Route 66 – a 6 mile walk in the sun (I still have the tan lines to remember it by).

The bus took us up lots of narrow winding roads with glimpses of the coast teasing at every turn all the way to the gates of Muir Woods. As it was getting late I only had time to complete the 1.5 mile trail through the giant Redwood trees but I loved every step. The woods were so quiet and the air was so fresh. It just felt good to be there. I saw a lovely big fluffy owl (a Spotted Owl) sitting high up in the trees who also seemed to be having a jolly nice day.

Looking up at the giant Redwood trees

Looking up at Muir Woods

Next, I took the shuttle back to Marin City and then another bus all the way back to Market Street for a spot of shopping before walking back to our base in Japantown which took a long, long time! By now I was exhausted but I made it over the road to Kippu Sushi where I didn’t have sushi (I had chicken teriyaki, tempura and gyoza and beer). Then I went to bed.

Sunday morning saw another planning session on the Foursquare website. I then walked around the corner to Fillmore Street for breakfast at Janes. I had a huge portion of granola with yoghurt and fruit and a very tasty brewed coffee from Stumpton coffee roasters.

Signatures on the mirror at jane on Fillmore

Jane on Fillmore

After a nice stroll Van Ness during which a man told me I had a body like a gazelle (!?) I took a bus to Lombard Street. It was so steep that my nose was practically touching the floor as I walked up it. I walked down via the “crookedest road in the world” past the stunning Victorian houses watching the cars attempt to navigate the eight tight hairpin turns. Another bus to one of my favourite districts The Mission (I really like getting buses) and then back to Blue Bottle Coffee on Mint Plaza for a refuel (discovered this the first time I was here).

A two day weekend meant that I had time for a gallery visit. SFMOMA was closed for expansion construction but there were plenty of exhibitions in various locations to choose from so I headed to the Contemporary Jewish Museum for the Beyond Belief exhibition which spanned 100 years of the spiritual in modern art from Piet Mondrian to Mark Rothko. I also had time to look around Beat Memories: The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg. The CJM museum is housed in a fantastic space and it was not too busy. Happy days.

Two more buses back to Japantown and a quick detour to see the “Painted Ladies” in Alamo Square park. I wasn’t sure at the time what the name referred to but Wikipedia tells me that it is “a term in American architecture used for Victorian and Edwardian houses and buildings painted in three or more colors that embellish or enhance their architectural details.” So there you go. They were rather pretty. Dinner Sunday night consisted of enchiladas and some more beer at The Grove on Fillmore Street. It was yummy.

And with that the weekend was all but over. I had a long three days ahead of me so I went back to our hotel and set my alarm for 5.30am (gulp!) ready for work.

Confab Fringe Meetup – March 2013

On Tuesday, 19th March, The London Content Strategy Meetup held a special Confab Fringe event at Google Campus that featured three great talks about content strategy from the Government Digital Service and Confab speakers ahead of the first ever Confab London Content Strategy conference taking place this week.

Here are some of the notes that I made during the evening:

Neil Williams: On Her Majesty’s Digital Service
Neil is a Product Manager at Inside Government where they are merging the websites of all government departments and many other public bodies into one section of www.gov.uk.

  • Currently content is spread across many sites and as such is incomplete.
  • 14 of 24 Ministerial departments have been moved over to www.gov.uk/government in four months which has included the migration of 45,000 documents.
  • GOV.UK is a product that people want and research shows they would use it again.
  • Start with needs – Who are the users? What do they need? Document user needs on a spread sheet (user stories). These needs inform every decision.
  • Bring people with you – Everyone is involved.
  • Constrain formats – No such thing as a ‘general page’ all content must meet user needs. There is no space for waffle on GOV.UK!
  • Editors, dev and designers together – Sit together, learn together, build together.
  • Quality – Validation, performance metrics and spot checks are used to ensure quality content at this scale.
  • Change management – Need to consider all of the stakeholders involved and make sure they are listened too and included in the journey.

Gigi Griffis: Content Strategy with a World-Changing Twist
Gigi is a Content Strategist and web writer.

  • Think macro – Improve working relationships and identify people within organisations who are not working together but should be.
  • Think micro – How can Content Strategy help your portfolio or an Airbnb listing? A/B titles and descriptions.
  • Be creative (and sneaky) – Incorporate Content Strategy wherever you can to demonstrate value and help you sell it in. Project briefing forms are a way to identify user needs.
  • Content strategy not only teaches people how to create and manage content but also how to think about content, marketing strategies and customers in the long term.

Leisa Reichelt: Prototyping User Experience
Leisa spoke about Strategic User Experience and explained that with a better understanding of business strategy we can align our work to business goals and consequently deliver better customer experiences.

  • A two way approach – Top down (designing better environments for doing better UX) and Bottom up (delivering strategy through execution to drive change).
  • Work in a multidisciplinary team. Sketch to HTML, stay out of Photoshop.
  • Document only what’s necessary.
  • Don’t work alone – Common sense emerges quicker when you pair with somebody else.
  • Test multiple prototypes – Don’t commit to being right at the start.
  • Use real content and test the content.
  • “Show, don’t tell” – Showing stakeholders prototypes gives them a better sense of what you are making and allows you to make decisions based on evidence.

Three great talks and some very practical takeaways. I’ll finish with one of my favourites quotes of the night from Leisa Reichelt:

“Prototyping beats abstraction”

UXPA UK February Event – Brand and Experience

Consistent = Trust

The February 2013 UXPA UK event was about the intersection of brand and experience design. Here is a short overview of the talks and a few thoughts on the subject.

User experience is at the heart of your brand
Kevin Keohane (@brandviolet) and Don Fogarty (@DonFog) from Brand Pie gave a talk titled ‘User experience is at the heart of your brand’. They began with some brand basics: be relevant (to the audience you want to engage with), be authentic (don’t say one thing and do another) and be differentiated (why should people chose your product over a competitor’s?). When working with clients they ask what’s your purpose, ambition, strategy and positioning? These questions apply to both internal and external facets of the company and they believe that strong, enduring brands align what they do with what they say and position themselves based on what they’re great at and not just on what’s happening in the market.

They then explained why they think that brand experience and user experience need to be one and the same thing and referenced a study published in the Journal od Applied Psychology that gave poor treatment as the number one reason why people leave brands (a whopping 73%). Customers who have memorable experiences with your brand are more likely to remain loyal, spend more money with you and recommend your brand to their friends. Conversely customers who have bad experiences will also share these with people in their network on a variety of channels.

“Create an experience that provides a memory that relates directly to your brands purpose, ambition, strategy and positioning” – Kevin Keohane and Don Fogarty

As Kevin and Don explained the prize is to become market leader but even leader brands can be knocked off the top if a nimble challenger brand comes along with a simple, usable, focused product that is backed up with a superior end-to-end customer experience connected across all touch points.

Brand is Interface
David Eveleigh-Evans (@eveleighevans) from Method spoke about the ways in which the nature of brand definition is evolving and adapting and how interaction design is shaping the experiences between people, technology and brands. He explained that interaction design is becoming ever more important in differentiating a brand and maintaining customer loyalty as product experience surpasses traditional marketing communications and advertising.

David explained that your brand is more than a logo, a typeface and a series of colours, your brand is your interface and the gap between brand promise and brand reality is determined by the truth of use. Being consistent and transparent creates trust and brand loyalty.

“A brand is not a product or a promise or a feeling. It’s the sum of all the experiences you have with a company” – David Eveleigh-Evans

Social networks provide brands with opportunities to join in the discussion on a much more personal level and they are also opening up new touch points for customer engagement and support (conversely they are also creating new outlets for your customers to talk about you). David explained that the challenge now for brands is to bridge the gap across all of these online and offline touch points.

Summary
Digital technology is bringing us closer to brands than ever before via mobile, desktop and offline channels. How can brands differentiate themselves in this ever-changing world?

Customer experience should be at the heart of everything you do. A user-centred design approach aligns business goals with the needs of customers across channels, devices and touch points. After all, customers who have a positive memorable experience are more likely to return. However, if you have a fantastic product but your online presence leaves your customers frustrated and unsatisfied then they may well start looking for alternatives.

Take it, feel it and pass it on

My favourite quote from The History Boys written by Alan Bennett

“Pass the parcel. That’s sometimes all you can do. Take it, feel it and pass it on. Not for me, not for you, but for someone, somewhere, one day. Pass it on, boys. That’s the game I want you to learn. Pass it on.” – Hector

Great stories last.

Storytelling is a way of passing on knowledge, culture and traditions and it happens all over the world. Human beings were telling stories with words, sounds, gestures and pictures before we knew how to write. That’s pretty amazing.

Hello WordPress

wordpress-home-2

Welcome to my new home.

My Posterous blog will be closing down soon so I needed to find a new home. WordPress scared me initially as for some reason I thought that I had to install it and I hit a brick wall when got to the ‘Famous 5 Minute Installation’ that quite frankly gave me nightmares. After a bit more looking around I realised that installation this was not necessary (d’oh) so this time I just picked a template (which itself took days) and here I am.

After a bit of tinkering around I have setup this blog, added some sidebar widgets (using a nice drag and drop interface), created my very own Gravatar, added content to the ‘About Me’ page which was straightforward and now I’m writing this.

I don’t do resolutions as I don’t find them very fulfilling but I do try to set myself goals and one of my goals is to get better at writing which was the reason for setting up a blog in the first place. I want to write more like I think. In my head words and sentences flow clearly but I often hesitate and stumble when it comes to writing them down. I write, edit, re-write and re-edit.

As such I am going to take this new start as an opportunity to write more and publish more (I have a lot of draft posts yet to see the light of day). I might even get a bit more personal.

Next up I need to back up and import my Posterous blog and then point my personal domain to this blog. Oh, and I need to work out how to turn off hyphenation… Fingers crossed!