Apr 25

“I have spent the past 15 years, first as a management consultant and now as the dean of a business school, studying leaders with exemplary records. Over the past six years, I have interviewed more than 50 such leaders, some for as long as eight hours, and found that most of them share a somewhat unusual trait: They have the predisposition and the capacity to hold in their heads two opposing ideas at once. And then, without panicking or simply settling for one alternative or the other, they’re able to creatively resolve the tension between those two ideas by generating a new one that contains elements of the others but is superior to both. This process of consideration and synthesis can be termed integrative thinking.” — How Successful Leaders Think

Mar 10

“Berners-Lee’s manager at Cern scribbled “vague but interesting” on the first proposal Berners-Lee submitted to him. Most people confronted with something that is totally new probably react the same way.” — 25 things you might not know about the web on its 25th birthday | tech |

Feb 27

Ebb and Flow

Innovation requires imagination.
Imagination requires space.
Space for ideas to emerge, to evolve.
To break apart, to recombine.
To decay, to endure.

There are no guarantees,
Innovation is rarely deductive.
Yet given the space for ebb and for flow,
Candidates will emerge.

The richer the dialogue,
The broader the perspective,
The stronger the candidates,
The greater the confidence of the team.

And so without this space, all we have is stasis.
We offer little more than we already know.
What are you doing to create and maintain that space?

Feb 26


Feb 24

How Medium Is Building a New Kind of Company with No Managers -

Dipping my toes into Holacracy. It’s often compared to an operating system, something about its adaptability, scalability and ‘object-orientatedness’ appeals. 

“This emphasis on organic growth has a side benefit of distributing authority. In Holacratic systems, individuals operate without managers because many of them have decision-making power in a particular area. And since everything is made as explicitly as possible, everyone in the organization knows who has authority over what. “It’s much better to have power distributed as widely as possible so more people can make more decisions to move forward,” Stirman explains. “This structure leads more toward moving fast, trying new things, and adjusting as needed. You don’t have to wait for everyone up a ladder to sign off. This can take weeks or months, when Holacracy says, ‘You know what, we’re going to hire the best people we know and trust them to make decisions for us.’ All day people make decisions, own parts of the company, and act on them. The momentum this creates far outweighs someone making a bad decision. You also have the momentum to change course quickly.”

Feb 16

I enjoyed Barry’s homage to Lean Startup in The Economist. Especially the juxtaposition of Kodak & Amazon. 


The odds are important:

“Winning organisations are continually experimenting, testing theories to learn what works and what does not. The reality is that fewer than one in ten of these new ideas or products will work, but the ones which do pass the litmus test could have a massive impact on the business’ future fortunes.”

And I know a few organisations who could learn from this too:

“Give your initiatives enough money to do something, but not enough to do nothing. Focus on frequent demonstrable value and validated learning before further investment.”

Feb 14

Banking != Banks

We’ve just finished an interesting piece of work with a bank. I never thought I’d hear myself saying that, but scratch beneath the surface and there’s a fair bit of ‘disruptive’ stuff happening. Most of it design–led. 

It’s hardy surprising. Banks used to represent the most trusted of all industries but through a combination of complacency and overt–greed, we’re now in a position where technology companies have replaced them

Most of the changes are happening at the edges, not from the banks themselves. Bank Simple (they’re not a ‘bank’) are the posterchild, but there are a bunch of others trying to ride the wave. And then there’s Square, whose most recent service is a great example of how to differentiate on experience.

This article from Jin Zwicky is worth a read if you’re interested in this stuff. The focus on simplicity is something most organisations can rally around and has shown demonstrable benefits:

"We saw double-digit increases in sales in investment and insurance products when we simplified the communications material. We saw 100% adoption rate in using the digital needs analysis tool in our top branches after we simplified the tool. We increased customers’ satisfaction in our account opening experience by simplifying the system. Finally, our simplified website was not only listed as The More Gorgeous and Simple Banking Website, but also we could save about 0.5 million dollars per year by reducing the number of pages in the website."

But, for me, the stuff that really resonates is the emphasis on cultural change.

“I came to believe that ‘simplicity’ is not just a project. It is not just a team of simplicity specialists. It is a capability that we have to cultivate! Furthermore, it is an organizational culture that we have to create in order to achieve simplicity.”

This is the real challenge for ‘institutions’. It’ll be interesting to see if any of the old-guard can grok this and start innovating at the rate of people like Square.

Feb 12

Natural User Interface (NUI): What are the basic principles of NUI (Natural User Interface) design? - Quora -

Enjoyed this discussion on NUI. Especially Justin Wilden’s response.

And this from Rachel Hinman:

“NUI experiences should be like an ocean voyage, the pleasure comes from the interaction, not the accomplishment.”

…although I don’t see interaction & accomplishment as mutually exclusive things. 

Feb 11

Design responses, not solutions

I’ve lost count how many times I’ve referenced these words from Colly

…find problems and design responses. Not answers, not solutions, just responses. There’s rarely a single right way, so just explore problems and see what happens.

Design is not a zero sum game.

“In my experience thus far, there’s a direct opposite-correlation between Information and Intuition. That is, the more noise I get, the harder it is to hear my intuition. And the less noise I get, the easier it is to make a very clear decision.” — The Intuitive Investor — The Josh Spear Blog

Oct 29


Jan 26

This won’t fit into a tweet. And sorry, it’s about job titles so feel free to scoot off. 

A client recently asked me why I winced when describing myself as a ‘User Experience Designer’. Well, apart from the obvious embarrassment of it being a ridiculously pompous title, it has deeper ramifications when working with teams (almost always). It suggests user experience is the domain of an individual. It excludes – or worse still excuses – others from adopting this approach. But that doesn’t make sense. UX is a flavour not an ingredient. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a designer, developer or writer, we are all fundamentally invested in the user’s experience. 

Jan 24


I enjoyed episode 69 of 99% Invisible: The Brief and Tumultuous Life of the New UC Logo. It was fascinating for all the usual reasons that designers find  the religious debates around logo-reboots interesting. We sympathise with the poor misunderstood designer. We chuckle at the well meaning but ignorant opinion of the layman. Before finally returning – with a collective sigh – to where we were started. And with a shrug we accept this as the Designer’s Lot. In 25 minutes I think I passed through all five phases of the Kübler-Ross model. Sounds horrific but actually this was a great story, expertly told as always by Roman Mars and colleagues. 

For those that haven’t had the pleasure, the show recounts the story of the ‘failed’ redesign of the University of California identity. Or more specifically the logo. In fact, it was even more specific than that – it was the monogram itself that seemed to get peoples’ goat.

And therein lies the problem. As the Creative Director points out, a monogram in isolation means very little. The goal is symbolism but it has to earn its meaning – firstly as part of the visual system – and eventually as a totem, emblematic of the collective experience of that brand. 

Problem is, this one never had a chance. It was pushed out in the world, isolated from its system and – like a pack of wolves – the Status-Quo bias took hold. The monogram had earned its narrative, it was just the wrong one.

Jan 05

Metadesign at Hack Farm

A bunch of us – mainly Clearleft, but also co-conspirators Jessica, Mike, Brian and Andy – recently went on a thing called Hack Farm. We even made a site about it. And just-enough of a product. It was fun and I feel very honoured to be part of a team of enormously talented people.

I have to admit my interest in Hack Farm was weighted towards the process rather than the output itself. Part of my ever-growing interest in the conditions and environment around innovation.

Anyway I made a bunch of notes about this side of things.

Innovation (as opposed to plain old ‘good design’) can feel uncomfortable. Finding a balance between excitement/momentum/making and ambiguity/uncertainty/creativity is a challenge that someone needs to take the lead on.

Stewardship is so important here. The groups needs enough structure to avoid disorder/chaos but not so much that this it inhibits bold/exuberant thinking (often the source of the most exciting ideas). IMO, we underestimated how much stewardship was required. With hindsight, an (independent) facilitator and A LOT more preparation would have been a smart move. Think of each day as a collaborative design workshop and you’ll be getting closer to what’s required.

Design Games are, as always, your friends. We adapted versions of exercises we use with clients (especially Design Studio). But they come with a few words of warning. A lot of these games are focused on reaching consensus. However, this often comes at the expense of some of the sharper edges. At times it felt like regression toward the mean. In some ways this is desirable during client workshops but at Hack Farm we were a little too hasty to smooth those edges. Again, structure/planning/facilitation would have helped here.

People will approach the problem from different places. I tend to work outside-in, looking at big picture stuff like strategy/vision before moving on to details. Others prefer material exploration. On Hack Farm a lot of material exploration meant playing with the various APIs and data-sources already working in the UK political space. This blend of conceptual/abstract thinking with exploratory/investigative hacking was one of my personal highlights from Hack Farm. Definitely something I’d like to see more of on live projects.

Some people will struggle with this way of working. This is inevitable. After all, it’s hard to stay engaged for an entire week, especially when everything (environment/process) is unfamiliar. But it can be a little toxic for the rest of the group if there are stragglers, especially if it happens too often. Again, a good moderator will stay on top of this and adjust if needed.

I went into Hack Farm wondering whether the model could be applied to client work. The answer for me is yes, but with a lot more work. The logistics, not to mention the cost, would make this a significant investment for anyone. But the potential is clear for me. Let’s see where that goes.

Dec 19

“Leadership is 50 percent fiction/50 percent nonfiction. That is to say, leadership is the confidence in knowing what you know and what you know you’ll know. It’s the ability to speak confidently, knowledgeably, and easily about the latter that sets some apart. Be comfortable with the fiction.” — Bobulate