Hello from the final hours of 2023. This month I did 3 weeks of work, then a week and a half in Tenerife (including Christmas) and then a few days just pottering around home.
I did take several books on holiday with me (too many in fact, I only got through half of them) and also came back to a few that had arrived in the post (hat tip Caroline Jarrett for pointing me towards Karen Shriver's 1997 book Dynamics in Document Design and the neglected field of information design). My general theme was on design, education, and government, meaning I got through Joanna Williams' Consuming Higher Education, and most of John Agar's The Government Machine. I also got through Susanna Lipcomb and Helen Carr's What Is History, Now?.
A recurring theme through all of these ones was the creation of the 'consumer' (and my goodness is December the month of consumerism?) While the idea of a 'consumer' became a thing for goods in the early 20th century USA (often, interestingly, noted as women) it then became a part of rhetoric relating to UK higher education in the late 20th century (a 1993 policy article is the first that talks about consumers, while also mentioning customers - later potentially being not only students but also their parents).
I have more thinking to do about all of this, but there's definitely something about how we can take certain terms for granted and not really think about how recent they are. (I'm hoping to really dig into an impressive 20th century timeline in Dynamics in Document Design that tracks the rise of consumer culture through document design: it's immense).
Aside from the earlier mentioned books, I also read or listened to a few others:
- I’m working through Erik Stolterman Bergqvist’s Design Thinking Reading Suggestions: Going Deeper. So far I’ve finished Tom Ingold's Making (excellent - talks about how designers are in correspondence with materials - a conversation that doesn't really start or end), Donald Schon's Educating the Reflective Practitioner (much of which I enjoyed in showing how language is shared, though wasn't sure about the end parts) and started on Bruno Latour’s Pandora’s Hope: Essays on the Reality of Science Studies (with some brilliant close observation of actual science work in all its messiness, as well as post-rationalisation of history after a breakthrough).
- I listened to Legacy Russell’s Glitch Feminism on the weekend. In fact I’ve listened to it several times as it takes a few goes to take it all in. It’s boldly QTBIPOC, and while it took a while to get into some of the language (remind me what Shangrila means?) it’s an important celebration of bodies that choose to counter current binaries, to ‘glitch’, and to be both ‘afk’ (away from keyboard—a concept I understand but does feel very late 00s and desktop) and online. (See also: Katie Notopoulos’s suggestion in the MIT Technology Review that to have good discourse on the internet we need to go back to the olden days of blogs and get beyond the big platforms)
- I also listened to Johanna Macy and Chris Johnstone's Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in with Unexpected Resilience and Creative Power. There's some good thoughts about managing energy and activism, though I'd love to talk to people more knowledgable about activists such as Nelson Mandela as I sometimes worried that the examples being used of their work might have been a bit simplistic?
- I also really enjoyed Lucy Webster's The View From Down Here: Life as a Young Disabled Woman. One reader review complained that it was an 'angry' book but it wasn't, but instead with some moving chapters about carers ('the girls') and challenges with access, relationships and hopes for being a parent.
This month in government and design links
- Hold it lightly—Ben Holliday talks about how designers have to care enough to push but not so much to burn out
- AI Is Becoming a Band-Aid over Bad, Broken Tech Industry Design Choices—or as per the common refrain “no AI without IA (information architecture)”
- The first International Government in Design 24 hour remote conference happened this month. I enjoyed hearing about GOV.UK forms, the amazing app work work happening in Ukraine, and Singapore’s work on their compulsory saving scheme CPF
- Happy belated 25th birthday R—the programming language created by two Kiwi academics.
- Clare Reucroft and Nia Campbell talk about what mental models bring to content design—I particularly like how they point out that sometimes people need to be rebutted and re-educated, something that might not explicitly come out of user research unless the team are prepared to consider change management
- The ever-excellent KA McKercher on how designers need a scope of practice
- More reflections of Design System Day 2023, this time from TPX Impact
- The Canadian Digital Service has created a privacy notice generator for their colleagues doing user research after 2 years of tweaking it internally. Speaking of security, they’re also doing security snack time
- Closer to home, it’s nice to hear examples of proper ethnography in government, such as Defra’s Future Farming ethnography
- I don’t know how I ended up on the mailing list for Chicago design studio Field of Practice but I’m glad that I did —here’s a ‘core values’ workshop from co-owner Kristin Lueke. I also discovered the STA 100 competition honouring excellence in typography (so some designer catnip here!)
- Some nice work by Oriana García on tweaking UI animations to make them more accessible
- I’ve got mixed opinions about card packs, Smithery’s Where The Light Gets In regenerative design field kit looks like one of the more thoughtful ones, with prompts such as “what might the original designer do today?” Related: Jon Kolko has written about thinking like a strategist
- Historian Anton Haye’s discussion on being a public historian is a long read but worth it—he brings up the duty to not only be very careful about reporting but to also speak up when inaccuracies (be it from researchers or just an interpretation of research) go public enough to end up in the press
- Daniel Prager’s Workshops that Work is a handy primer of activities to use and why
- Snook have released guidance about the discovery, alpha, and beta phase. They’re also supporting a service design apprenticeship programme
- Lucy Webster uses disability month (yep that is December) to put the spotlight on British disabled suffragette Rosa May (known as May) Billinghurst — also called “The Cripple Suffragette”
- Rosie Spinks suggests that the generation who didn’t play openly in the street are now suffering as they don’t have the skills to make friends as adults
- Joe McLeod looks back at 100 years of American-style consumerism (more on this!)
- I’ve realised that there aren’t that many articles out there about actually doing usability testing with people with access needs, so Evelyn Sakura Brokering’s article on doing moderated tests with people that use assistive technology starts to fill that gap.
- Also on methodologies: Nomensa have published a 4-step guide for completing usability testing analysis. Being able to separate levels of severity in findings is a big one.
- Eric Bailey says that websites are like bridges.
- I’ve been catching up on the excellent Designing For Students podcast (and Paul Moran actually put me in contact with one of the writers for the related book, sorry I haven’t answered you yet Jean, I need to do it!). One thing I discovered from that was Radka Newton’s work on higher education personas, so that’s going straight to my colleagues.
- Speaking of AI: I finally got around to reading ‘AI is Like… A Literature Review of AI Metaphors and Why They Matter for Policy’ and it’s excellent — showing why metaphors matter (why the USA funded AI but the USSR ignored it, and even how metaphors affect legislation)
- A couple of ‘the future is here, it’s just not evenly distributed’: in the USA check fraud is rife for the few that still use it, and (also in the USA) what it’s like living with limited access to internet in the Black rural South
- Do you really need a repository? Often no, it’s about better knowledge management first
- Something must have been in the air recently—while I spoke about Dig Where You Stand as part of responsible interaction design back in November and also generally thinking about design pattern histories, Andrew Duckworth has written about the importance of doing the design digging. Back in 2021, Caroline Jarrett wrote about how projects and services start in the middle. And Tom Ingold (mentioned earlier) wrote about this in 2013, namely on how we kid ourselves that building are built on a particular date when in reality the foundations are usually older and bits are worked on after it is supposedly ‘finished’.
- TPX Impact has done a 12 days of service design
- David Cornforth has written about inception. What I find interesting from this is that it challenges my assumption that inception was a parallel to alpha—in fact it’s more like a discovery.
- I’ve been interested seeing how the Canadian government is developing and iterating an open-access benefits estimator. They’ve recently blogged about how feedback is shaping the benefit estimator
- Lizzy Bruce’s 6 essential things for businesses to know about content design reminds me how in a way information architecture was possibly the better name for the discipline before it got changed. Speaking of which, Mags Hanley reminds people that information architecture isn’t just about getting results from users but actually having skills
- The developers on the GOV.UK forms team have written a dev charter. It’s nice to see developers committing to standards and accessibility and the like, as much as this could seem like ‘of course we should do that’ it’s all too easy for people to decide that it isn’t their problem
- The government call for evidence on the advice gap for financial services is intriguing—partly for the commentary about ‘consumers’ (not ‘citizens’ or similar) who may not have access to advice for things such as pensions or financial investments.
- Speaking of science, a new science centre aims to bring together western and indigenous knowledge
- Somehow I ended up finding videos from the Dev Rel Con conference earlier this year … they’re great. Myrsini Koukias’s talk ‘How to make less more: learn to pivot when your budget disappears’ uses a decision-making model called PrOACT (problem, objective, alternatives, consequences, tradeoffs), and Tena Šojer Keser’s ‘We turned developers into journalists’ created developer-focused content by training their devlopers to write for the organisation.
- Instead of having an MVP, make something that is SLC — simple, loveable, complete.
- The Flux Collective is one of those magazines that just sends me off in a different directions of reading. Their year in review is a treasure trove of models and lenses (I particularly liked the idea of changing posture from defensive to leaning forward like skiing — it’s scary but ultimately far more efficient — but there are way more) and also the idea that success creates calluses
- I also liked the idea that we need to learn how to do ‘critical ignoring’
- Danielle Catalanotto spoke to Live Work’s Ben Reason about strange service design rules—I found it interesting that he finds that even governments in different countries have different values (he compares the UK’s more transactional and efficiency based model to Norway thinking about long-term relationships)
- That said, here in the UK Policy Lab’s Vanessa Lefton and Alex Fleming write about working with disadvantaged people and multiple departments to do systems change in policy
- Yes, we can be user-centred in technical projects (thanks Nik for this blog post)
- I liked this model from 18F about when and how to share user research artefacts (or ‘artifacts’ in the US spelling)—transcripts need care, but diagrams and prototypes should be open
- Helping to get quality code into production as an interaction designer
- Ross Ferguson admired the new GOV.UK proposition, compared it to the also-good-but-different NHS website proposition, and then Heledd Quaeck shared Natural Resource Wales website proposition
- An excerpt from Richard C. Cytowic’s book “Synaesthesia” reminds us that conditions have to be noticed to exist, and for synaesthesia this only happened 200 years ago
- Possibly the most charming anthropology book you’ll ever see: Michael Taussig’s “Postcards for Mia”, chronicling his hand-drawn postcards he sent to his granddaughter, the titular Mia.
- the wild story of activist art getting smuggled into of all things… Melrose Place. (Yes, *that* Melrose Place).
- Christmas Cards, GOV.UK style (and with a warning).
- Meanwhile, over in New Zealand, it's summer, and The Spinoff talks about the classic Kiwi 'togs togs togs undies' ad for Trumpet Ice Cream
- also with New Zealand: there’s a great article by Alan Baxter in the LA Times on the effect that Lord of the Rings had on New Zealand, 20 years after Return of the King won all those Oscars.
- continuing with the LA Times: film critic Justin Chang on the highs and lows of filmgoing in (US) theatres in 2023.
- a staff writer reflects on his best gags as he departs the Onion.
- And finally, there are some fun things on social media where people really try to understand a genre. I love the guy that is trying to listen to every music genre on spotify - 54 in, nearly 4000 to go (I was intrigued by skweee, 'accordion' and meme rap, suitably horrified by redneck, but was stunned that he'd never heard of Motown), and also the person that is trying to cook the national dish of every country (the UK's was a sunday lunch. I have no idea what New Zealand's will be - a sausage sizzle? meat pie? boiled puha and fish heads?)
See you all in 2024,