Head of UX at traveljunction.com and Organiser of Industry

Invisible Challenges

This article was delivered as a talk at Thap Thursday, Clicksco UK. It has been slightly edited.

I’ve battled with myself as to whether I should write about this subject… It’s a challenge to openly communicate about a topic which is fairly stigmatised and generally not discussed.

If you follow plenty of people on twitter, mental health in tech has been brought up in recent months.

It’s something which we as an industry are only now beginning to discuss more openly than ever before.

It has many names, mental illness, mental health, depression, anxiety or just plain ‘issues’.

It is something that 1 in 4 people will experience in many shapes and forms during the course of a year.

That means that a significant amount of people reading this now will face a mental health challenge over the next twelve months.

My Interests

For as long as I can remember I’ve had an interest in psychology and the human brain. Things like…

  • Why we do what we do
  • What affects mood, both positively and negatively
  • What impacts or affects motivation
  • Self Confidence & Self Belief
  • Beating Depression – Non-medicated and medicated

I’ve no formal qualifications in psychology, instead I read insights, listen to people and monitor human behaviour.

Our Industry

We as an industry are an interesting one, to an outsider it seems like we have amazing jobs with no stresses or challenges. To them “We work on computers all day”.

On the inside we know it’s very different, I know as a designer I face daily, if not hourly, challenges of feeling like I’m on top of the world to wanting to jump out of the window.

And it’s clear from the research that I’ve done, that developers feel the exact same way.

The challenge we face is that the peaks and troughs of our mood are directly relatable to the work which we’re doing at the time and they’re very hard to regulate into a smooth wavey line.

By the way, it should never be a smooth flat line or flat and spike continuously, everyone is afforded room to be sad or moody.

We have our good days and we have our bad days.

Different Kinds of People

Different people deal with different things in different ways.

Extroverted people appear happy, outgoing and loud. Introverted people are more quiet, less communicative and because of that can seem moody.

An extroverted mood line looks a bit like this –

Extrovert

 

Their mood peaks quite high for a sustained amount of time but their drops are deep either sharp drops or prolonged if they can’t be brought round quick enough or they bounce from high to low quite quickly depending on the person.

An introverted mood line looks a bit like this –

Introvert

Lower highs and even lower sustained drops. Introverts show less happiness even if they’re over the moon about something. They get very happy about specific things they enjoy, but those things can also cause their drops.

Signs

Anxiety and depression are the most common in Britain, with almost 9% of people meeting criteria for diagnosis. Many many people fail to get diagnosed, they don’t want to talk to anyone about it, they don’t feel they have anything wrong or much worse they go vastly downhill and it’s hard to pull them round again.

Signs that someone is suffering…

  • Mood swings – Both positive and negative. If you notice someone going through a hugely positive mood swing and then crashing to a massive low repeatedly is a sign. If you see someone crash very low and it’s a sustain low it’s a sign
  • Lack of Motivation – If someone looks like they’ve lost motivation – not just motivation with their work but in life. If they start wanting to sleep longer than is normal i.e. they can’t be bothered to get out of bed on a morning or all they do is sleep through the day is a sign
  • Intense Introverted Behaviour – If someone just wants to be left alone, is spending more time by themselves and becomes moody around other people this is a sign
  • Snapping Mood Swings at Random – If you notice someone having snap mood swings over something which is trivial – this is a sign

What you can do

If someone is suffering, absolutely anything can make a day worse and unless they begin to try and control it, it will continue.

Mental Health, Illness, Depression, Anxiety, anything to do with the human brain isn’t straight forward.

‘Fixing’ these things isn’t easy, if you can use the word ‘fix’. I think it’s more about ‘controlling’.

Some who suffer mental health challenges control it medicinally which can have their own complications – the chemicals in the medicine are playing with the chemicals in your body and they’re quite renowned for side-effects until you get the right one for you.

Alternatively you can try self-controlling things. This can be done individually by someone or seek help from a counsellor / psychiatrist / psychologist.

Often if you’re diagnosed by a doctor, you’ll be seeing a counsellor and they’ll prescribe you medication.

Outcomes

The WORST outcome for a sufferer is self-harm and suicide. Self-harm, again, can be controlled. I found a couple of ‘ticks’ to work. Counting and a rubber band around your wrist, when you recognise something coming in you can either start counting to break the thought process or ping the rubber band for the same result.

Suicide and suicidal thoughts are far far harder to control but they can be controlled and in time they may pass. Sometimes you can learn to control and continuing controlling your feelings for the rest of your life. Clinical depression on the other is a much bigger and harder thing to overcome.

A little bit of advice

Now I’ve got those bits out of the way…

Mental Illness, Mental Health, Anxiety and Depression are sometimes stigmatised. They’re real, we are only human.

Some of us suffer more than others and we can help by understanding and recognising traits.

If you notice someone suffering and aren’t sure how to deal with it, ask someone else. Most people not suffering shut down and stop communicating with a sufferer which can sometimes be the worst thing to happen even if the sufferer is finding it difficult to communicate back.

Non-sufferers, don’t shy away but do seek assistance if you need to.

Sufferers try recognising your traits and make a plan to control it. Recognise when things are getting worse and seek more direct help.

And remember, our industry doesn’t make us immune to feelings.

We are only human.

Normalised Design

Here’s a couple of thoughts on ‘normalised design’.

A circle doesn’t need to be a circle and square doesn’t need to be a square.

Design becomes normalised when you constrain it to proportions and dimensions. Giving yourself an inordinate amount of rules is going to normalise things fairly quickly.

Grid, grid width, column width are now fairly common. I challenge you to work on a grid, grid width and column width after you’ve worked with the content you’re designing rather than constraining your design directly into a grid.

My hope is that it leaves you more creative or gives you more freedom to think about the context of the content you have to use. If it’s imagery, does it have to look the same old way? If it’s content, what type of content is it? Short, long? Headlines, main content? Does it read correctly? Paragraphs too long for reading on the web? Font size, content width… the list is endless.

Instead of fixating on crow-baring your content into a design that looks like everything else because you usually see it like that isn’t a good reason to do it ‘like that’. You run the risk of continuing trends just for the sake of it.

If you ever think you’re doing something because it’s usual, I implore you to get up and do something completely different to what you were doing 10 seconds before it. Always do something for a purpose.

Walk around, take 5 minutes to yourself, go and make yourself a cuppa, kick back in your seat, shut your eyes and visualise anything but usual.

Normalised design is simply ‘usual’. We can do better.

My Expectations for the Apple September 2014 Launch Event

This September, Apple will have their launch event. It’s possibly the most anticipated event for me for a long long time and I’m expecting big things.

Apple revealed a slightly new side to themselves in the last event, ejecting a little bit more life into their presentations and being on the verge of being more ‘hip’. Then shortly after the event they push a new advert revealing stickers for the Macbook Air. Stickers… People claimed Apple were losing it and ‘that would never have happened under Steve Jobs”. You know what, maybe it might not have but that’s not really the point.

For years and years, certain types of people have bought Apple devices and as Apple move further into various niche consumer areas, you can clearly see what is going on if you stand back a bit. Many young people have iPhones, a lot of Android devices but not all young people can afford Apple notebooks. They’re still £300 – £600 more expensive than an office the shelf PC laptop. That’s a tall ask for a family of 4 or 5 to provide a notebook per child.

You also find a lot of Apple devices now in education and healthcare, in some schools there are iPads per child. They’re beginning to engrain themselves a lot deeper into every day life and over the next 5 years I foresee most homes to have at least one Apple device if we’re not already close to that now.

What I’m Expecting

I set my expectations high and much of what I was expecting from the last event is actually what I’m looking forward to in September. Don’t get me wrong, the last event had me on the edge of my seat with the sheer amount of software dev that was getting rolled out so it wasn’t a negative event by any standards.

Retina or 4k Display

Let’s start with the thing I’ve been waiting for, for over a year. A new display. I had hoped this was going to happen at the last event but alas, it didn’t. I’m expecting a retina or 4k display to be unveiled if they can hit the price point they’re wanting to achieve, if not we may be in for a long wait which would be odd especially when I move on to my next point.

12″ Retina Macbook Air

With a pretty much full suite of retina devices and hardware it would be extremely odd for Apple to keep the Macbook Air non-retina. There have been rumours of a 12″ MBA for a while now, and I believe the 12″ will be Retina and they’ll clear off the non-retina stock by lowering a price point even further than the last drop. This may then play into their recent adverts directing at younger consumers to take those off their hands. Other hardware increases might make their way into the new Macbook Airs but we’ll wait and see. The one thing it’s always struggled with was HDD space. If they could sort that out I may well jump all over one.

iPhone 6

I don’t know about anyone else but whilst there’s a lot of hype around the ‘next’ iPhone, it’s definitely not at the top of my list for most awaited products. I’m not sure I want a larger phone, unless there’s something I’m missing and it’s a requirement for something they have planned. We’ll have to wait and see. I’m more interested in iOS8 and seeing that play well with Yosemite so I can connect and live between devices.

Apple Wearables

It’s expected but what will happen, we’ve been waiting longer for a real ‘Apple TV’ than we have for wearables so what will come first? If it is an iWatch, what will it do, how will it work? You can see it possibly being that always on the go device you have with you monitoring your every move but there’s surely only so much you can pack into a watch. I think I’m more excited about the possibilities than actually getting on in my hand (a bit like Google Glass).

Accessories

I’ve an odd feeling that we may start seeing accessories becoming a bigger thing for Apple. Whether buying Beats was a play for the music service or their hardware, there seems to be a lot that apple could do with accessories around their current offering. Imagine if Nest had gone to Apple, or if Apple had something like Nest. Apple in vehicles and how that would work. I think there’s space for something however small in the accessory space.

What might we see the end of?

There’s always a time when a product sees the end of its days, I’ve been looking to a re-released mac-mini for a long time now but I’ve finally succumbed to thinking maybe it’s just not coming and it will be discontinued. Which is fine I guess if the other hardware can be connected in the way we’ve seen.

I think there might be a couple of the older iPads fall off the wagon and price points dropped to get those shifted. Or maybe they’ll just funnel those down into education and healthcare niches.

In closing…

Whatever happens, I’m really excited to see what comes of the September event. We may well be in for one hell of a long presentation or a relatively short one unless there’s just “one more thing…”

 

Infinite Scroll

This is a written version of a talk I gave at Refresh Teesside on May 21st, 2014. It’s a great local event and you should try to attend if you’re in the North East of England.

I recently read an article by Dan Nguyen title ‘Why did infinite scroll fail at Etsy?’.

Dan writes about a recent talk by Dan McKinley, Principal Engineer at Etsy on ‘Design for Continuous Experimentation’. In short, the presentation was on large scale A/B testing and specifically about Etsy’s attempt at infinite scroll and their testing of it.

In short, infinite scroll at Etsy.com failed by their standards for a couple of reasons.

This got me thinking. That same afternoon I tweeted out a quote from the article;

“Etsy spent months developing and testing infinite scroll to their search listings, only to find that it had a negative impact on engagement.”

It started a discussion between a number of people who either wanted to or were being asked to implement infinite scroll on the sites they were working on. They wanted to look to Etsy for insights.

Testing Assumptions

I believe it’s always best to test your assumptions if and when you’re able. You can find so many answers in data that you’d be hard pressed to find a reason not to test things.

Just because something might work or not work for Etsy, doesn’t mean it may or may not for someone else.

Ryan, who was involved in the discussion said “Surely the initial testing would have made it evident at the start of the testing?”.

I answered saying “Probably not. There’s a lot to test against, each take their own time to make anything conclusive.”.

To explain further; it would have been easy at that early stage to make a snap decision not to implement infinite scroll. With Etsy’s huge user base it may have been very shortsighted.

Remembering that Etsy is very much a community based ecommerce store they’ll have many different cohorts of users all with their own tendencies to browsing Etsy which they need to test against.

On top of that, Etsy will likely look at how infinite scroll is implemented technically as well as the experience of using it. Some questions may have been;

  • How many items show initially?
  • How many load in second?
  • How do they load in?
  • What loads in?

They’d look at the performance, remembering that Etsy have been working on their mobile web project in recent months, this would be important.

All of this takes time and that’s why I’d hazard a guess as to the reasons why they didn’t make a snap decision early on.

Why use infinite scroll?

But that’s Etsy, let’s put that to one side for the moment and think more about infinite scroll by itself and why you should or should not use it. You’ll often get people saying something similar to the comment below from team members, stakeholders or clients but that doesn’t make it the right decision.

“Let’s implement it so people can look at stuff!”

“We can show so much stuff!”

“People won’t get bored because there’s so much stuff to look at!”

There are scenario’s where infinite scroll is a perfect solution for what you’re trying to achieve. You see it implemented at sites like;

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Pinterest

Those companies want you to spend time on your site. You know what it’s like you go to facebook and you’ve gone the rabbit hole of finding out what your friends have done over the past day or so and you come up for air thirty minutes later and wish you’d get your time back. Facebook et al want their time on site average to be high so they don’t stop showing you a feed of information.

When not to use infinite scroll

At TJ, it was suggested that we implement infinite scroll at one point. It isn’t to this day and it won’t be in the future.

It is far too easy to implement something just because, but here are the reasons why it isn’t implemented.

Where it isn’t a perfect solution is often when a user has to complete an action, for instance at an ecommerce store or somewhere that you make a purchase.

Think about going shopping in your local high street, imagine if you just went shopping at random and every time you got closer to the end of the high street there would be more and more shops appearing so you’d go on and on and on and on.

You’d end up becoming tired or bored at the amount of selection and likely divert into a coffee shop or restaurant and give up on making a purchase.

Room for Thought

If you own a site or work on a site where customers make purchases and you’re thinking about or have implemented infinite scroll to provide your customers with ‘more’ try this out…

  • Remove infinite scroll
  • Add pagination and make the amount of items in a list anywhere between 15 and 30
  • Increase the visibility of search on your site and the ability for users to filter information
  • If you’re running ads to pages on your site, hyper-target them to landing pages which give your customers what they’re looking for (think about your ad copy as well)

Customers want to find what they’re looking for. They utilise search more often than you think. They want to complete tasks based on a number of different reasons but berating them with options isn’t one of them.

At TJ, we want our customers to find and book a hotel at a place of their choosing based on the requirements they have in mind so we’re presenting them with the information and results they need to do just that.

Infinite scroll is not the best approach for us. Is it for you?

Links

You can read the full details about Etsy directly at Dan’s article.

It’s ok to not have all the answers…

I have a very analytical, methodical and logical mind.

The certainty of factual information to provide answers has to be very high for me or at the very least way I need to be able to weigh up the odds in favour of being right before I do something.

The need to analyse data and behaviour every single day is something I’ve never been able to stop, I now do it without even thinking and this happens both online and offline.

Having a logical mind requires me to have correct and valid reasoning for pretty much everything, both at work and at home.

The traits I’ve identified above don’t often sit well when I come across something where I don’t know everything about it or don’t have data and analysis to hand. There’s been a couple of times over the past few years where I’ve let this get to me — and I’ve almost felt that I should just give up because I don’t know enough.

And you know what, it’s so easy to give up. It means you don’t have to do anything. You can get back into your comfortable place where everything is rosy. There are no problems to solve and no stress to gain.

I’ve read quite a bit about this subject recently where people have said “Don’t worry, I’ve no idea what I’m doing.”

That doesn’t help someone like me who doesn’t just want to know, but I need to know or I’ll internally combust.

Over the years I’ve learned a thing or two about dealing with the ‘not knowing’ even when the pressure is on when you’ve got other incredible talents around you in and out of teams.

Firstly let me clear something up. In a literal sense, if you didn’t know what you were doing you’re likely lacking in the skills to be in that role in the first place as you ‘literally’ don’t know what you’re doing.

You should always know what you’re doing but you might not always know or have the answers straight away. And you know what, that’s ok. Don’t worry.

Things to Help

Trust your team

If you work on a design team you’ll have other professionals around you have felt or are feeling the exact same way as you. Trust in the communication of your team to discuss the challenge at hand and find a way forward.

If you’re a freelancer, speak to other freelancers. If you’re completely alone then reach out to anyone that you can to hear you out.

Have a process

As creatives we generally have a process for just about anything and everything. As part of a design team, we at TJ have a set design process that we work through which helps us to figure things out.

A lot, and I mean a lot of research is done up front in our team. This helps alleviate the ‘not knowing’ as we generally have something to work with based on the the research. We’ll always have a baseline amount of data to go off.

Trust your gut

Over time you build up a sixth sense, you can just tell that one direction is the right direction to go in or you know two and it is worth testing.

Trust in your gut but don’t assume for too long that you’re right. Test those assumptions as quickly as you can.

Practice what you preach

The more you do something the more you learn, the more you learn the more you know. In our industry, in our roles we will never know everything, but we can continue to feed on information that we’re presented with and build links between them to better inform us in the future.

It’s ok…

It’s ok to not have all the answers straight away. Those folks on teams you’re admiring, they likely don’t have the answers upfront either, they’ve just found a way to make the process easier of getting them.

We pressurise ourselves too much to know all the answers. Don’t. The stress in doing so will hinder your ability to find them.

You might not have all the answers now, but you will in time.

Impossible

Just because something might seem impossible, doesn’t mean that it is.

When is something good enough?

I caught a conversation this morning between Ashley Baxter and Rachel Andrew that was so good I thought it needed preserving. Bit of background, both Rachel and Ashley spoke at Industry Conf last year. Rachel spoke about supporting Perch, a product that Rachel and Drew have been creating for the last 5 years. Ashley spoke about learning Rails and creating her own product, Lodger App. The conversation went like this;

Ashley Baxter (@iamashley): “We asked people and they said they’d use it.” People often say this to just be polite. The best way to test your idea is with that MVP.

Rachel Andrew (@rachelandrew): @iamashley the key question is would they pay for it… and how much? Even friends and family often give a different answer to that.

Ashley Baxter (@iamashley): Do you recommend asking this before you have a MVP? I just think people respond with what they think the dev wants to hear.

Rachel Andrew (@rachelandrew): somethings solve a problem, and people would use them, but it isn’t worth paying for them.

Ashley Baxter (@iamashley): This is a question I need to ask. I wonder when I will come out of the “my app isn’t good enough” phase.

Rachel Andrew (@rachelandrew): probably never we’re 5 years into Perch and still saying “it needs to do x”. That’s why you need to launch.

Both thoughts resonated. We often fail to get beyond the “Is it good enough?” For us, for what we’re building, it’s never good enough, it will never be perfect. We’ll also never find out if it is good enough unless we put it out there, in to the hands of those who are looking for it to solve a problem or change their lives.

Even for us at TJ, every small incremental change is deliberated over. We can discuss what might seem like the smallest of details for a long time as we know these small pieces stack up into larger pieces of functionality and we want them to be valuable.

As for Industry, every year is an MVP, every year I never know how successful it is going to be until the speaker line-up is released and people start backing it. But the feedback does come, people do back it and they do see value. It doesn’t stop those thoughts though, the dread that it’s not good enough.

You’ll never know until you put it out there.

The Giving Back Economy & Random Acts of Kindness

I have a theory that you get more enjoyment and thrill from giving back than you do getting something for yourself personally.

In my younger days I would rarely give to charities.

I was skeptical whether the funds I might give to them would go directly to the source that needed it. We often see areas of the world which need help whether that be financial (monetary aid) or physical (food aid), and they’re riddled with corruption. Using Haiti as one example, they’re still suffering from the earthquake which crippled them because the money that was sent to the country has been used or spent by corrupt agencies or officials.

The thing which frustrates me the most is that the countries which provide this aid just carry on giving without finding a way around it. Surely that money or aid can be given in a better way, which goes directly to the source and can help those in need. It’s likely not as easy as that, but there are agencies and charities who can go directly to source and are doing great work.

Since my youth I’ve been more inclined to wait and find those that need assistance or help and give back.

And you know what not only do I enjoy it but I thrive on the thought that I’ve given back, that I’ve helped someone in need. These are some of the things I’ve done, which have gone directly to the source.

I joined Kiva.org a few years ago and have made two small investments in people and it all started with $25. Once the first loan was paid off, I used that cash to then go and invest the money in someone else. The fact that I can invest $25 along with other folk from around the world to fund a mother of six in a far away country to purchase materials so that she can make products and sell them to support her family all the while paying the loan back over a number of months is truly amazing.

I found out about our local Food Bank when out shopping one day. I didn’t fully understand what they were or why they were needed until I saw a documentary on them. Food banks collect food and give to those in poverty and there’s a much higher rate of poverty in the UK than you’d think. Some entire families are living on less than £5 a week to pay for food.

The Food Bank provide a little shopping list of things you can donate, which keep for a while, that they can store and give to those in need. I read an article one day that said you could purchase a weeks food on less than £6. So I tried to do just that, I went in to our local store and bought everything on the list. I managed to get everything for around £7.50. When other people were dropping off the odd can of beans or jar of coffee’s my Wife, daughter and I tipped up with 2 full bags of shopping. The volunteers at the desk were shocked, it clearly wasn’t normal for that to happen but I wanted to learn more about the food bank and who were directly in need. The volunteer talked me through that there were kids in our area, in poverty who were having 1 meal a day or less. I took one look at our little girl and promised that I’d try to do more. Now every time the Food Bank are at our local store, we purchase that same shopping list. £7.50, the same price as a couple of coffees and a cookie from Starbucks.

charity: water. The first time I heard about them, I think, was via Cameron Moll’s authentic jobs website. I watched one video, visited their website and found that every dollar donated went directly to providing clean: water to those who needed it. Every child in the world deserves clean water and they help make it so. So I set up my random act of kindness page and aim to raise as much as possible, for anything donated I’ll match. The cost of a coffee, sandwich or magazine can add up to providing clean water for those who really need it. A random act of kindness is you foregoing your daily coffee or sandwich and even your weekly or bi-weekly magazine.

If I ever see a charity box, I’ll drop some change in that I have in my pocket, if I’m given change I ask the store owner if they have a charity box they can put it in. Lots of little amounts make a big amount that can change someone’s life.

If I ever get take-out food, or go to a restaurant – I randomly tip larger amounts just to see the look on the persons face. Especially if the staff members have been great to my kids if I’m with them.

I’ve started to give back to our Industry when I can, this year I supported an event in London so they could provide their attendees with some food and refreshments. I know how hard it is personally with running Industry Conf to be able to do that kind of thing, and giving back really does help the micro-events.

I’ve had some bad experiences with Kickstarter where the items I’ve backed have taken over a year to reach me (some over 18 months), however, I continue to back various projects when I can. These aren’t huge amounts and are often around the $25-$50 mark depending on the project I’ve backed. If I can see the passion in the person doing the Kickstarter and see value in the product, that’s generally when I’ll back them.

If you’re wondering how I managed to do all of this or think it sounds like a lot of money, it’s not. I try to do 1 or 2 things a month out of the above. How do I finance them? I simply cut back on the things I might purchase normally that don’t add any value to me or my family. Go to Starbucks everyday? That’s £15 a week or more. Buy things ‘just because’? I used to do that, now I give something back.

Giving back is addictive, knowing you can help is addictive. If you want to know what giving back looks like to the person receiving it, watch this video and this collection.

Try it.