We are not all equal

As we design and build products you can often find yourself believing that your customers and users are just like you.

They use devices, hardware and software just like you. They navigate websites just like you. They are just as savvy about the web, just like you.

In actual fact our customers are generally nothing like us. You can begin to ascertain just how different they are through user and customer research.

Let me give you an example of how different things really can be.

At traveljunction.com, we sell hotel rooms online. We also take hotel room bookings over the phone but a lot of our business is done online. I keep a constant open communication channel between the customer care team and myself as it helps me understand our customers, their needs and even their frustrations.

One day, not too long ago, we had someone make a hotel booking. Shortly thereafter, the customer rang our customer care team to ask if she could have her booking confirmation sent to her in the post. The customer requested this as she didn’t have an email address for the booking confirmation to be sent too. She didn’t have an email address, at all. She had used her grand-daughters email address of which she didn’t/couldn’t get access too and nor did she have a printer to print the confirmation off. She needed the confirmation within two days and she was about to start travelling.

This specific customer had used a search engine using a specific search term, landed on traveljunction.com, navigated through the site and made a booking. Yet this specific customer in question was yet to get an email address because the amount of internet usage didn’t warrant the creation of one.

So remember, the next time you think “users do X” or “users would never do that”, remember we are not all equal.

Design Team Ethos

At the beginning of 2014, I began to build out the traveljunction.com design team beyond a single person (me).

I gained an awesome team-mate, Tim Gale, who’s been with me on the journey ever since. We sat down and created a design process as traveljunction never had one previously.

We were very particular about the process and it was quite exhaustive, something that worked pretty well as we revamped nearly every area of the product over the course of a few months.

The additional thing we worked on as we drilled away at the process was a 5 point ethos that Tim, myself and any person who joined the team thereafter would be held accountable to and work towards. A few months later and we grew again and added Kate to our team.

Our Design Ethos

The aim was to keep it short and on point, to include things we truly believe in and to push ourselves to become better at what we do on a daily basis.

#1 – Never assume

We will never assume that anything we do is right, we’ll only hope that we’re less wrong than before so we can progress in a measured manner.

#2 – Collaborate Always

We will never work in silos, even if we’re working on different parts of traveljunction at the same time, we’ll collaborate in an effective manner to get the best out of the product. More heads are better than one.  It’s far too easy to silo yourself.

#3 – Visuals do not come first

Visuals do not come first at traveljunction, aesthetics don’t make a bad product good. Usability and experience do, focus on those first and the aesthetics later.

#4 – Open, Honest Communication

We’re a team and great teams communicate and are open and honest with each other. When the going gets tough, when the product is under heavy critique, if we stand by shoulder to shoulder we’ll do ok. Ego’s are left at the door.

#5 – Process is King

We’re well aware that sometimes things can get challenging, but if we trust the process we’ll end up at the place we’re wanting to be no matter how long it takes. Trust the process and everything else will take care of itself.

Constant Improvement

Many of the points above could be used for different types of teams including engineering teams. We’re always looking to improve in our own little individual ways and having something to look at is comforting. Our process has changed over the years, but the ethos stands firm.

Big Thanks go to Tim for working with me on creating both the ethos and process.

A Healthier Designer: Part 2

Between January 2014 and January 2015 I lost over 2 stone in weight, dropped 2 waist sizes and became happier within myself than I’d been for years. This is the story of how I achieved it…

Way back in 2011, I wrote about being ‘A Healthier Designer‘. I raised my concerns about the effects that our industry can bring on our health if we’re not careful.

I raised a point that if you’re a work-from-home freelancer and not thinking about your own health then you could find yourself in the situation where you don’t leave your home for 3-5 days. It brought about a fairly large discussion both in the comments and on twitter.

I detailed my own personal story of being overweight for quite a lot of my life, especially since I entered into the industry. I’ve often found it very hard to lose weight apart from a period in 2003 when I lost 3 stone in about 3 months, it was on purpose and I felt great but couldn’t keep it up long-term.

When I wrote the original post back in 2011, I talked about how I managed to lose weight by focusing on a new healthier lifestyle and entirely changing my diet. I was extremely strict, and un-knowingly sent myself down a path which resulted in a trip to hospital.

As I started to lose weight, I thought I was winning, everything was controlled. I knew what I was eating and when and because it was working I didn’t want to change anything, and didn’t. The meals I ate were the same for months on end. That was my downfall. Shortly after I wrote about my diet I began to feel some excruciating pain which I thought was muscular pain and treated it with pain-killers. It got gradually worse and one morning I woke up and couldn’t stand up straight. In order to relieve the pain I had to lean or sit. I ended up in hospital with a compacted bowel. Gross. I’d been so strict with myself that I had in fact not eaten enough of the right things. There clearly wasn’t enough ‘roughage’ and definitely not enough diversity.

Daddy Fat

You hear that women put on weight when they’re pregnant. I now truly believe that Dad’s also put on weight when kids come on the scene. I was still going to the gym quite actively before both Addison and Nyah were born yet I still managed to sky-rocket my weight again by the time Nyah turned 1 month old.

Around that time, I was once again my heaviest weight and I was also going through a terrible time of male post-natal depression. My wife went through post-natal depression with both children and it looks like I ended up with it the second time around because I was so concerned about what she was going through. This taken from nct.org.uk explains a little bit:

There is also a moderate but clear link between a dad experiencing depression and his partner also suffering from depression.

Now, focusing on your own well being when you’re trying to control depression is exhaustive at best because you really don’t care.

However, having dealt with plenty of challenges throughout my life I knew that one of the best ways to get a grip was to take control.

At this point in time, I wasn’t going to the gym, wasn’t keep an eye on the food I was eating and was touching 14stone 3lbs. 36inch waist jeans felt uncomfortable, and there may have been 38inch jeans being worn. I was wearing anything and everything as baggy as I could. Let me just post the ‘before’ data:

Weight: 14stone 3lbs
Waist: 36-38inch
Clothing: Extra-Large

February 2014 and the introduction of Slimming World

Jen had been wanting to lose some weight and tried weight watchers, having visited one of their get-togethers she realised it wasn’t for her. After speaking with a friend she happened upon Slimming World. I did my usual “these things are all the same and never work” explanations. She loaned a load of the Slimming World books from a few people and we sat down one night to look through the things that you could eat. I’m not going to lie, the food looked amazing and the variation of what you could eat was incredible.

I didn’t understand, nor still do understand the over-easy, under-easy, healthy B or whatevertheheck they call them options but we started it and kept at it.

We were eating meals like ‘Burger in a Bowl‘, ‘Beef Ragu‘, Chicken Curry, Chicken and Chips (no joke) and load of other amazing meals.

This is what a typical day looked like for me;

Breakfast: Special K Cereal Bar + Cup of Tea
Mid-Morning: Piece of Fruit
Lunch: Sushi + Muller Light Yoghurt + Can of Diet Coke
Dinner: One of the above meals or anything from the Slimming World books that we wanted at the time
After Dinner: Chocolate (another no joke) 2x party size chocolate items

Note: I was once again off alcohol and maybe having one drink per 2 months if at all.

This time around I wanted to track as much as I could. I opened up the WeightBot app on my iPhone, put in my starting weight and then picked a Saturday morning to do my weekly weigh-in. Within the first few weeks I wasn’t doing any physical exercise but I started losing weight. Again, I’d expected an initial drop and then everything to level off. This time around, everything carried on in the right direction, week by week I started to lose a little bit of weight. I would lose 1 or 2lbs every single week by following routine above.

I felt like I was eating better than I ever had in my life with massively varied meals.

March 2014 and the introduction of Strava

Pete is the avid runner in our team at traveljunction. We’d discussed several times in passing that we’d go out for a run together on a lunch time. I’d put it off countless times before I bit the bullet. I knew I’d struggle, my lungs were weak and I knew I’d have issues with my asthma at first. We settled on an introductory route of 1.5miles. I nearly died. I think I did more walking than running and nearly ate my inhaler at one point.

But I didn’t give up, if I was at work I’d go running with Pete, if I was at home I’d go for a run by myself, tracking all of my runs on Strava. Work runs were fairly flat, home runs were awful as I live on a hill and every road around me is a hill. It certainly brought around some hard cardio work.

At the end of March I started back at the gym doing my weight training. Weight training is my thing, if I could do any form of physical exercise it would be weight training. I started with a variation on previous workouts which were ok, I got some strength back but not a huge amount.

By the end of April 2014, I weighed in at 13stone. I’d lost over 14lbs and could physically feel the difference in myself. Running up the stairs was easy, playing with the kids was easy and I just felt more comfortable overall.

April to July

I continued running with Pete, you could say that I became addicted. I think that, combined with my diet and weight training had the biggest impact on my weight loss. As by the end of July I’d hit goal after goal. My weight at the end of July was 12stone 2lbs.

In total up to that point I’d lost 2stone 1lbs of weight. An incredible feeling.

The end of July, however, brought something which would change my routine. An office move. At the old office we had a shower which we could use when we wanted to go for a run, the new office location didn’t have one so my runs with Pete would have to stop. I was petrified of the impact that could have on my weight loss.

But the fact is, it didn’t. Not even a little bit. I was the lowest weight I had been since 2006 and I was able to maintain the steadiness of my weight. There were no increases and I was able to drop weight if I gave it enough focus.

August and thinking about what I do next

When you hit goal after goal, you can tend to get a bit complacent. I’d never expected to hit any goals after the first one. I hit many plateau’s where I just couldn’t break through to the next level of weight loss and nearly gave up but with some determination I carried on.

I figured that now being 7-8 months in on this journey I needed to look at where I was headed and what my ‘next goals’ were going to be. I doubted that just generally keeping an eye on my eating habits and going to the gym 3-4 times a week would enable me to break in to the mid-11stone area. I should note that my lowest weight was achieved in August and I hit 11stone 13lbs.

The reasons why, my current routine and what the future holds…

Having hit 11stone 13lbs in August, I knew that would be all I could muster for a while, I was cutting my intake pretty heavily (still the right food) whilst still training. It was my decision to not commit too heavily to continuing this. I wanted to spend time building some muscle whilst not focusing on weight loss for a while. I levelled off at around 12st 2lbs and would fluctuate +/- 1lb from week to week.

I began to think about why I originally started this new journey and where it would lead me. I wanted to be ‘better’, I wanted to be ‘fitter’ and most of all I wanted to be able to sustain the amount of energy which is needed to chase around after two little girls. I’d definitely got that far so I needed to think about where I was headed next. I’d clearly shown that I wasn’t in it for the short term, as I write this its nearly 12 months to the day of when I started.

I changed my entire mindset to thinking that nothing is immediate, everything takes time and you’ll never achieve anything long-lasting in the short-term. I’m in this for as long as it takes, I keep thinking about a 5 year mark and then run through ideas of what I can do in 5 years. I have varying goals like run Tough Mudder, succeed in achieving ripped abs (I’ve only got close once in my life) and a load of other crazy stuff.

I know of quite a few people in our industry now that do some sort of training similar to my own, some more intense than others. One of my best friends, Craig, works at proteincard.com and has previously achieved what I’d love too. Danny Keane, a fellow designer and now WBFF Pro works his butt off and posts regularly to YouTube / Instagram, Heather Noonan-Hargroves and Ashley Baxter  both train weights too as well as our very own Tim Gale. It’s great having someone sat right in front of you who does weight training so you can discuss routines. The likes of Doc Parsons and Richard Wiggins are avid cyclists and Rachel Andrews and James Young are keen runners. It’s nice to know that there are other people in the industry doing similar things to myself and to see their successes.

I don’t really talk about my training, nor am I yet at the stage of posting before and afters. A few people have seen me over the past 12 months and noticed a difference, which is nice. This year, as I begin training that little bit harder towards my goals I may start actively talking about it. Who knows.

Current State

Currently, these are the stats.

Weight: 12stone 2lbs
Waist: 33inches (awkward as hell)
Clothing: Large or Slim Fit

I’m continuing with the slimming world menus, they really do work. I often eat more protein based meals due to my training. My diet is far from ‘clean’ but it is far cleaner than it probably has been in the past, hence the maintaining of the lower weight.

I train 4 times a week and currently it looks a bit like this:

Saturday: Chest
Sunday: Arms
Tuesday: Shoulders
Thursday: Back

Arms is the shortest work out and it last about 40-45minutes. The other three can take anywhere up to 1hr 30mins depending on how far I want to go.

If you’d like to know my specific workout, let me know in the comments and I’ll post it up in a separate post.

In January I shifted my routines to focusing on building strength which is going well and I’ll continue focusing on this for the next 3-4 months. Then I’m going to spend the next 6 months focusing on a cut which will be tough, I’m looking forward to the challenge but know it will be a hard slog.

Sticking with it…

Throughout all of the last 12 months, I’ve done one thing and that sticking with the process. You hit plateau’s, there are times when you find it hard, times when you can’t workout but if you stick to the process and aim for things which aren’t time-sensitive you can do anything you put your mind to.

I hope this helps someone.

My 2014

The last time I did a yearly review was 2010. A lot has happened since then, so much so that it was about time I resurrected the yearly review. Here’s My 2014…

The end of 2013 and the start of 2014 were challenging and it didn’t let up for much of the year.

My second little girl, Nyah, was born on the 4th December 2013. We’d been through a lot with Addison when she was first born that my wife and I had joked that if we could deal with that then we could deal with anything and it would just require more teamwork between us to make sure both of the kids were ok. Addison was getting to an age where she was fairly self sufficient to a certain degree although she still was waking up 7 times up until the night Nyah was born and from then on she started sleeping through. That’s right other parents who are reading this, Addison didn’t sleep through once until she was 2 years old and on average she’d wake 4 times a night!

The thing is, we didn’t cope well at all and it was no breeze even though we had so much knowledge from Addison. The amount I could write about this time in my life is far too much for this one post but let’s just say it lasted longer than I’d ever have imagined and wasn’t nice for any of us.

January 2014 saw the launch of traveljunction.com, a project I’d joined in October 2013. There were many long days and longer nights done to get us to a launch phase, the product has come a long way and changed so much since then. 12 months has allowed us to get us to know ourselves, our customers and our partners. The next 12 months of TJ will be very interesting indeed.

I had the opportunity to go to Palma for a business meeting, it flew past as I was in and out within 24hours. The meeting went well and we’re still working very closely with that partner. The journey back from Palma was interesting, there were less passengers than there were staff so I did my usual thing of reading offscreen mag and catching up on email for Industry as it was only a couple of months out at this point.

And then there was the launch of the second Industry, the Event for Web Professionals. At the end of Industry 2013 I wasn’t entirely sure if I’d do a second one but it’s hard not to when you get great feedback and support from so many people. Launching an event in December-January is always quite a nerve-wrecking thing to do, it’s in the middle of most peoples downtime but again the support was great and everyone seemed to love the line-up which I’d put together. New faces, diverse topics. A staple diet for Industry.

Paull Young, charity: water
Paull Young speaking about charity: water at Industry 2014.

In April, I did two major things within two days of each other. Industry took place and the following day I started packing to move house. We moved into our new home the following afternoon. I forgot about how stressful it is to move house but the difference between the old and new house were so great especially for the kids that I put as much of the pain and stress to the back of my mind. Industry was incredible and we had some fantastic talks as per usual. Lara Swanson Hogan, Rian van der Merwe, Timoni West, Paull Young, Greg Hoy, John Allsopp, Sarah Sampsel and Harry Roberts joined us providing talks on all kinds of subjects from web performance through to cognitive bias. All of the talks from 2014 are now published on our YouTube Channel and on Vimeo.

Things went back to normal quite swiftly, I pencilled in Industry 2015 in my diary and got back to work with my team relaunching TJ. It was very timely that just days after the conference I made my first hire into TJ and the design team welcomed Kate into the fold. Later in the year I made another hire, Gavin Sim, a front-end Engineer.

In September there was a lot of discussion and talk in the community about Geek Mental Help week, around the same time as I saw the discussions start I noticed that MK GeekNight, a well known and respected event in Milton Keynes were looking for speakers. I put my name forward having done a small talk to the TJ team internally about mental health. The plan was to do a lengthened version of that same talk, but having four hours drive down to the event changed my mind. I stepped through my hotel door at 4.30 in the afternoon and spent the next hour and a half pouring my heart out into writer app, detailing everything that had been going through my head on the drive down.

The feedback to the talk was incredible, I choked up a couple of times but got through and can’t thank MK GeekNight enough for having me there and for the attendees who listened.

During September I had a quick jaunt back to my home county and did some 4×4 driving up Coniston Hill with the guys from Kannku. It was really fun and I’d recommend them to everyone.

Kannku 4x4 Driving

November arrived and I was headed off to the first Break Conf, organised by my good friend Christopher Murphy. Following the finishing of Build Conf, Belfast was left with a bit of a void of events. I’m always up for a quick visit to Belfast as I love the city. Two stand out talks of the day for me were Sarah Richards and Jane ni Dhulchaointigh.

Break Conf

In the latter few months of the year I was up and down from the North East to London for various meetings and I was hard at work putting together the line-up for Industry 2015. This was quite easily one of the hardest line-ups I’ve put together but I have so many people to thank for assisting me. The new line-up was launched mid-December and tickets are available right now.

I closed out the year with some much needed holiday time and some rest, the first time I’ve done so in about 5-6 years.

2015 should be easier and better, I hope.

How to move into a more Senior Role

When I was younger I was always fairly independent, head strong and forthright. I’m glad I still am.

It set me up for where I am today and I’d say it has definitely contributed to how I’ve moved into more senior roles throughout the years. Over time you look back and see the things you’ve done, how you’ve managed yourself and the things you’ve learned to see how those things have contributed to your professional progression.

Some background…

My first senior role in the industry was my very first job at 22yrs old. I was freelance. I was the designer, front-end developer, HR, finance and boss man.

It wasn’t my first job where I’d took a little piece of seniority. In earlier jobs I had led teams. When I was 17 I led my first team running a group of 5 game reviewers from around the world and working with the largest game publishers.

Following a few years of freelance I joined an agency and quickly took on a more senior role, then came my time at Codeworks where I worked with a team to establish the DIBI Conference and ultimately took as much control as I could over that. I’m aware this could have come across negatively to the team who had helped in its original creation — sorry guys.

Then there were was more time spent freelancing, working within an agency, being the Senior Designer at a startup, creating and running Industry Conf and joining traveljunction.com as the Head of UX.

Over the years I’ve worked on learning as much as I can for as long as I can from the people I can learn from and used it to my benefit and the benefit of the project/product I was working on at the time.

I started working at 14/15 years old and since then I’ve enjoyed and relished the challenges that senior roles bring and I’ve picked up some tips on how to make the move into a more senior or leadership role if you’re thinking about doing it yourself.

Moving up the chain

Often moving up the chain moves you from being led to being a leader, hence the seniority part. It’s a big move, sometimes people who become leaders are not ready for it or end up not wanting the role.

There’s no one size fits all ‘here’s how you’re a good leader’ book. Go to your nearest book store to find that out.

Over the years I’ve found that there’s a couple of good things that constitute whether you’re ready for a senior role/leadership or a good senior/leader:

  1. Listen more than you speak. You realise that you may not have all the answers and knowledge to take something from A to B, but the people around you and on your team do. You’re willing and able to listen to their thoughts and feedback, rationalise their thoughts with the preferred outcome and make a plan verbally once ready. You speak when needed and present information when required with purpose and thought, not before.
  2. You can visualise a path to success. You have the foresight to see the navigation to a successful outcome. Yes things might get in your way and things will test you but overall you’re able to see what the end game is and be able to articulate that so everyone around you knows it too.
  3. You have answers. If someone has a question, you have an answer. Everything is clear in your head, you know if there are challenges and when/where they’re likely to pop up and these again can be articulated externally and internally within the team you’re working in. As well as that, you’re able to communicate clearly how success might be brought around quicker by doing ‘X, Y and Z’. You know what’s going on because you care so much about what you’re doing, and due to that you have answers.
  4. Integrity. You’re honest about what can be achieved — and/or you’ll find out what can be achieved. If you don’t think something is possible you don’t say it is knowing full well it isn’t. Alternatively if you’ve been controlling something and it’s not been successful you hold-your hands up to that being the case, you don’t shift blame or reasoning to someone else. You can openly say why something isn’t or shouldn’t be possible. You can rationalise your thoughts to remain honest and truthful.
  5. Clear hindsight. You can look back at something and know the things that have been causing you challenges. You can easily say which things you’ve learned from and how you could do them differently in the future to change the outcome.
  6. Future thinking. You’re always thinking about the future and what needs to be done whilst working on the current without messing up one, the other or both up. You don’t screw things up to get another thing done.
  7. Never give up. You live and breathe your product, you care about it incessantly and think about how you could make changes or make things better like when you’re going to sleep, waking up or at the gym. You’re clever enough to realise where something isn’t going to work and can quickly adjust yourself and your team to get to a better outcome.
  8. You lead from the front. You’re unshakeable or the perception is that you’re unshakeable. If something bad happens, you don’t panic. You know to react in a calculated and calm fashion. You’re the person you’d want in your trench. You want to lead and have the respect of those directly around you. You have the trust in them and them in you. You can do.
  9. Not scared to share your opinion. You carry conviction in sharing your opinion. You know how to deliver it in a manner where it will be respected. Simple blurting your thinking out doesn’t carry through to the person listening and will usually end up making you look like you don’t know what you’re talking about. You’re not the type of person to sit at the back of the room whilst everyone else shares their opinion when you know something could be done better.
  10. You actively take control. Becoming a leader and more senior is earned. Everyone around you knows that you’ve exhibited signs of being a leader if they were asked, even if your job title doesn’t say it. Alternatively if the people around you don’t want to be led by you then you’re not even close to leading. By leading you get the right stuff done and make good progress.
  11. You can be a PITA. But you’re a good PITA. Everything you do is for the good of the people around you and the good of the product or thing you’re working on. Most PITA make things difficult, are negative for no reason at all or generally just cause a nuisance and stop progress. A good PITA asserts a level of control like Zeus himself. A good PITA will control something in a way you may not agree with but will generally deliver what you’ve wanted and more. They have their own way of doing things — but are damn good at it.
  12. Are good. They’re good at what they do. Whether that be their core skill set, multiple skill sets or leadership itself. Good seniors and leaders have the experience to take you to where you need to go and know how fast to go with it. You’re good at knowing that things need to be done in a certain timeframe and can explain that to those around you.

Anyone can read all the books in the book store on leadership, more often than not a good senior/leader has a natural instinct to be good at what they do.

And remember…

Everyday you’re interviewing for your next job. Make the most of it.

Redirect a Domain URL to a Subfolder (and keep the URL showing)

I’ve been working on a little ‘Sunday Project’ today, just a little gimmicky page for myself, Gavin Elliott. I grabbed the domain gavinell.io yesterday and wanted to redirect the domain to a subfolder /tt/ so that you’d see http://gavinell.io/tt in your browser.

After searching for hours and hours and hacking around with the htaccess I finally came to a solution. If you’re looking to redirect your root URL to a subfolder but keep the full url in your browser the following code should do the trick!

RewriteEngine on
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_URI} ^/$
RewriteRule (.*) /subfoldername/ [R=301]

Big thanks to Naz Hamid for his Personal Page project.