I'm doing a deep dive into design theory—the type of stuff that mentions Deleuze, Arturo Escobar and so on. I'm not going to lie, some of it is hard going. What I do notice is the recurring theme of 'entanglements': trying to theorise about stuff while in the midst of doing it and changing it. I think that this is the biggest tension between theory and craft: while academics are talking about stuff, people in industry are just getting on with it.
To that end, I enjoy reading about people who are activists or otherwise just getting on with things. This applies to two memoirs I've read this month. Alice Wong’s Year of the Tiger: An Activist Life may sound angry from the title: and at times it is (rightly so, as some of this time covers disabled people struggling with the US government's approach to them during the pandemic), but it's also at times playful and fun, including interviews (Wong compiled the excellent 2020 disability anthology Disability Visibility and mentions some of the writers from that book) and sci-fi speculative fiction. Also good but very different was Polly Atkin’s memoir Some Of Us Just Fall. She was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndromes in her 30s after a lifetime of unexplained injuries and illness, and her memoir talks about both before and after the diagnosis, since as she says, there is no recovery from chronic illness, just maintenance.
That said, good introductory theory texts invite the reader in, and Peter Barry’s Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory is one of them.I particularly love when the author brings in his own experience of the high theory time starting to go wrong in the late 1980s.
This month in digital government and design
- She talks! For World Interaction Design Day (IXDD) I spoke at NUX Newcastle about responsible interaction design, You can read my blog post adapating my NUX/IXDD talk about responsible interaction design. I tried out using my iPad as a remote and speaker notes for my Mac using Keynote and local networks. I have a lot of links in that talk, but if there's one I want to give a shout out for it's Dig Where You Stand by Sven Lindqvist (translated by Andrew Flinn and Astrid von Rosen). It's the bridging book I didn't know existed about the political element of writing down history. Relevant but something I only discovered afterwards: Thierry de Pauw's talk on agile delivery and Conways Law
- On the events theme, one of the best UX conferences that I can’t easily attend from the UK— UX Australia — was on last month. As always, they generously put up the slides and audio of talks. Highlights for me from the review are: Andy Budd calling out design as overstating its own importance, Zoe Rose tracing creativity back to its industrial revolution and individualistic roots (see also a paper by Camilla Nelson on this topic, Feiton et al on how creativity needs constraints and Emergent Futures’ Lab take on how the Greeks never had creativity), Claudette Yazbek’s Policy Canvas, Eilish Out-O’Reily’s designing for the future overlooked users we will all become and Erin Casili’s tips for co-design.
- Adam Nemeth writes about An ISO Standard Way of Product Discovery—for all that we talk about the Service Standard there’s actually a pretty decent standard for all of us to use: ISO 9241. I’ll admit I haven’t looked at it much mainly due to the cost of the standards (something there about making things open?) but this has reminded me that I should review this standard.
- Other discovery stuff: I liked how NOBL frames product work as either ‘bets’ or ‘keep the lights on’. And over on Linkedin, Caitlin Sullivan has a nice chart of when to finish discovery.
- Heydon Pickerings’ video about accessibility overlays is well worth a watch, being accurate and also fun. See also: Todd Libbys critique of ‘whataboutism’ in accessibility.
- Cathy Dutton has written up her Services Week talk on Service Design
- Barry Traish and the DWP delivery profession have created a v1.0 DWP delivery standards. Good stuff in the comment section too.
- “We’ve discovered there is a difference between people’s opinions on a bilingual sign, and whether that sign actually works: a test participant.. questioned why we placed Māori language ahead of English on signs… while flawlessly completing a complex set of navigational tasks.” Maynard Design on bilingual signs
- I’m enjoying James Plunkett’s blog posts comparing today’s government to 1997
- How Might We Help Designers Understand Systems from Paul Pangaro and the ever-excellent Hugh Dubberly looks worth bookmarking.
- Jon Kolko urges for design literacy, comparing it to similar maths literacy that happened 200 years ago
- IDEO’s latest update is about financial security. Their piece on examples of making banking work for the unbanked around the world is interesting, for example, acknowledging password sharing to instead create human systems.
- How to communicate when trust is low. Tl;dr — they’re the same techniques women use and then get told show ‘lacking confidence’ … hmm.
- Emily Webber talks team memory, organisational sharing and serendipity in distributed workplaces. I absolutely love the DLUHC Planning Data service overview Mural
- Speaking of team memory, Service Canada Labs write about what they learned on Service Canada Labs before going live on Canada.ca. A nice story of using peers and data
- Pete Ward reflects on leading delivery for teachers services at the Department for Education. I like the focus on specificity and parallel work (content design joining up comms, data joining up data) as well as helping teams join up
- the Content Strategy Interview series has released an episode talking to content and usability legend Ginny Redish, who has been in the field since the 1970s (longer than I’ve been alive)
- speaking of history, Jakob Nielsen has used his decades of experience in usability to write about the UX angst of 2023. He believes that the field is currently settling after a few years of hype, and that AI will bed in as part of the toolset
- Lisa Koeman writes about how user researchers aren’t insights machines learning about users and their needs, but instead help teams learn about users and their needs
- Finally, my talks continue. I’ll be talking at Design System Day 10/11 October—on a panel on day 1 about the GOV.UK Design System contribution process and on day 2 about history and design patterns (a bit of a build on my IXDD talk). If you’re attending either, see you there!
- Saturday 2 September was National Cinema Day in the UK. I’m not sure if this has been a thing in the past—I’d never heard of it—but I used the reduced tickets for the day to do a belated Barbenheimer double bill with Barbie first. Barbie works well on a rewatch (so much craft!) and I now get the hype with Oppenheimer, even if it is very long and the women get short shrift with characterisation. (I’ll tell you what, Robert Oppenheimer’s seeming relentless thirst for learning has made me feel that I need to be more diligent about learning languages).
- Sycamore Gap tree felling—for those that aren't familiar with the incident, a well known tree in Northumberland (near mea) was chainsawed off earlier this week . I have to admit I’d never been to it (or at least I didn’t think that I have), probably as it needs private transport. Did not know that it was in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and the Bryan Adams song. The Chronicle has a list of its famous TV and film outings.
- The Los Angeles Times talks to John Waters about his retrospective at the Academy Museum
- “The only use for advice is to put it in your pocket and save until, if ever, you feel like taking it.” I want to read the deliciously scandalous novel Ex-Wife by Ursula Parrot, which shocked a reviewer with it being written in 1929!
- 10 years ago Lorde’s debut album Pure Heroine was released. New Zealand's The Spinoff has great in-depth article of the lead up to the album’s release with a then-unknown Ella Yellich-O’Connor.
- Any finally, the NYT has tracked how history has changed via Sandra Bullock films. (someone else noted that this could also be done with Norah Ephron films—‘are you online’ from You’ve Got Mail, anyone?)
Until next time,