UX Bristol Slides – Engaging Clients Meaningfully in the Process of Design

Great digital experience happen when we engage clients, not just users, meaningfully in the process of design. Attendees at this workshop learned how focusing less on ‘tad-dah’ and flat images of web pages, and more on the inevitable outcome, which happens when a client is engaged in the process of design, is the key to great digital experiences.

Here are my slides from my UX Bristol Workshop. All feedback is very welcome.

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Shared Vision : The Coordinating Force Behind Great UX

A lack of a shared vision can derail projects. Taking the time to properly construct a shared vision of the customer experience can focus teams and improve product design.

Now on UX Magazine part 1/3 part series on a Shared Vision:

Full URL: http://uxmag.com/articles/shared-vision
Short Link: http://uxm.ag/mf
Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/uxmag/status/131045751299121152
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/uxmag/posts/312682815415501

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UX Bristol workshop slides

Slides from my recent UX Bristol workshop on A Shared Vision; the coordinating force behind great UX are now on Slideshare.

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Ideas of March; a shared vision

This blog post is inspired by friend and colleague, Chris Shiflett and his ‘Ideas of March‘. Chris suggests that we blog a little bit more than normal this month. Simply to remind us why blogs are so great. I’m reminded that blogs are great for sharing ideas that are incubating, formed or final. By sharing ideas, we start discussions and come together as a community. I’m putting an idea out there earlier than I normally would. In the hope that people see value in the idea. Come together and we solve the problem raised, as a community.

Shared vision

A shared vision is something that successful companies have in common. Apple CEO Steve Jobs’ stated their vision for the iPod was – “to make it so simple that people would actually use it”.

You’ll notice that this statement is different from statements we’re used to from companies. That’s because this is not a mission statement. It’s an Experience Vision. An all too seldom used User Experience Design (UX) technique. Simply, it’s a clear statement defining the experience people will have with the site or product. Experience visions are the guiding force behind sites and products we love. They help sites stay on track, avoid feature creep and remain user focused. They have the added benefit of bringing people working on the site together.

The iPod experience vision works because it’s all these things:

  1. Simple – short and easy to understand
  2. Achievable – within reach in the near future
  3. Measurable – against decisions to be made
  4. Transferable – easy to get across to others, even when you’re not there
  5. Memorable – sticks in people’s mind
  6. General – so as to be relevant to everyone
  7. User focused – talks from the users, not the companies point of view
  8. Informed – based on an understanding of what’s important to users
  9. Motivational – rather than aspirational or even inspirational
  10. Clear – using common language, not business speak

Here are other experience visions:

  • Kodak – “You click, we do the rest”
  • Hotels.com – “Wake up happy”
  • Death cab for cutie – ‘To write songs that make people feel the thing that makes them want to hear it again’
  • Virgin Media TV service – “Simple, stable and fast”

Why is an experience vision important?

Visions are nothing new. Theater, religion, business and the military have used them successfully for centuries. A good experience vision is the guiding force behind many of the sites we love. As designers, they give us a target to aim for. A clear definition of the experience people will have with the site, keep us focused on what’s important, the people who use the site. I was reminded of the importance of focus by Aral Balkan’s in his excellent talk ‘Beyond Usability on Mobile’ at The Big M conference. Aral said that common sense is dangerous and what’s needed is focus on the user. An experience vision brings that focus. They’re also important in the design of sites because:

  • They help bring the project team together, no matter how dispersed people are
  • Are the glue in an Agile process
  • Keep people focused on who’s important – the users
  • Enable design to be tangential not linear
  • Help manage complexity and make choices
  • Aid collaboration with colleagues, other companies and clients
  • Bring a consistent experience across platforms

A vision keeps us on target













A shared lack of vision

So, why are many sites suffering from a shared lack of vision? Why is this technique under utilised and how, as UX professionals, can we breath life back into it? There are four fundamental reasons why experience visions are under utilised. All four the responsibility of UX community to solve together:

  1. It’s unclear what they are or are called – what
  2. The benefits are not clearly articulated – why
  3. Designing them isn’t easy and how to apply them is unclear – how
  4. They’re not built into the design process, so it’s unclear when to use them – when

As part of ‘Ideas of March‘ I’d like to breath life back into the experience vision as a valuable technique. Starting by blogging to raise awareness of the technique and the issues it faces. Hopefully, in turn starting a discussion in the UX community. Working together, we can then solve the issues facing the experience vision. Helping this technique take pride of place in the tool kit of UX professionals. As it already does in my and other designer’s tool kits. We can learn from others. Our counterparts working in the area of brand have been successfully envisioning brands for decades, for example.

Apart from a lack of clarity on what an experience vision is and an industry standard, there are other reasons why sites suffer from a shared lack of vision. Creating a good vision isn’t easy. If something isn’t envisioned, then how is it going to happen? Great sites don’t just happen, they’re planned. Starting with an idea. Followed by a vision. Brought to life through a detailed plan for how the vision will be delivered.

Here are some other reason why sites lack an experience vision:

  • Expressing the core in a vision isn’t easy, simplicity is never the easiest
  • Complexity clouds focus
  • Over time, even the best sites can lose focus
  • Lack of insight of the people who use the site
  • Site focused on other things, like technology

Got one in mind

If you think you haven’t got an experience vision for your project or site, look closer. Everyone has an idea of the experience they want people to have on a site. It may not have been synthesised and expressed yet. Talking to people about their projects, I often hear that they don’t have an experience vision. Then I hear the same words or concepts being repeated to explain how they imagine people using the site. There you have it. A sometimes rough, other times polished version of the experience vision.

If you have a vision and it’s not working for you, then consider the attributes of the Apple vision and how they apply to yours. Here are some other reason why your vision may be failing:

  • Fiction not fact
  • Set too early in the project, when not enough is known
  • Tries to be perfect, lets face it, perfection is not always achievable
  • Uses business speak and not natural language
  • Not shared across the people on the project
  • Lacks buy in from other key people
  • No one to bang the drum, every vision needs a champion
  • Focus on technical innovation rather than the experience for the end user

Join the discussion

These are thoughts from an article soon to be published titled ‘A shared lack of vision’. This article will explain what a vision is in more detail. It will offer a practical guide to finding, expressing and communicating a good experience vision. I’ve used experience visions successfully for many years, for companies big and small. The Virgin Media example ‘Simple, stable, fast’ is one I used to great effect back in 2005. My hope is that, working together, we can standardise this technique. That other UX professionals and designers see its value. Spread the word and share the vision.

Ideas of March

Why not share your thoughts as part of Ideas of March. Join Chris, Drew, Jon, Sean and others that already have.

If you’re still not convinced, read Vitaly Friedman’s excellent piece ‘Dear Web Design Community, Where Have You Gone?‘.


Image: Target bullseye art high school crush from category 2009-05-15/grunge-and-urban-studies


Johnny Holland ‘What is an Experience Strategy

Cindy Chastain Experience Themes – How a storytelling method can help unify teams and create better products. [Slideshare]

Further reading

Making Meaning – Steve Diller, Nathan Shedroff, Darrel Rhea. ISBN 0-321-37409-6

Start with Why – Simon Sinek. ISBN 978-1-59184-280-4

Made to Stick – Chip and Dan Heath. ISNB 978-1-905-21157-9

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Flyer beware; real cost of flying Ryanair

Jump to: Review of Ryanair.com| Ryanair brand strategy | How to cut cost of flying Ryanair

A brief history of low fares

Only two decades ago, flying was one of life’s great treats. Luxurious, exciting and infrequent. People remember their first flight. In recent years, the experience of flying has become more trick than treat, with the arrival of ‘low fares’ airlines.

The low fares model, pioneered by Southwest Airlines in the US, has made frequent flying accessible to more people than ever before. Nothing short of a transport revolution. Here’s how low fares are possible [infographic]. Unlike some European low fares airlines, the success of Southwest Airlines, operating since 1971, was not based on low prices alone. Its mission statement is to deliver a satisfying journey at a reasonable price. The reason; Southwest believes ‘it’s in the customer service business – it just happens to fly airplanes’. The result; healthy balance sheets, loyalty and countless customer service awards.

Unlike Southwest, the real cost of low fares is not reflected in the price. These ‘no frills’ airlines strip away all but the bare bones of the service they offer travellers. In dismantling the service, compromises are made, dramatically reducing the experience for customers. The already hard-to-take term ‘cattle class’ is being downgraded.

Coupled with a degraded service, there’s a sinister trend with low fares airlines towards puerile charges, antagonising customers and ‘dirty’ marketing tricks. Yet, huge profit and dominance on many routes for these airlines. What would the Wright Brothers think of their life’s work?

Outside the spirit of the law

At the forefront of this trend are Ryanair. Being Irish, I’ve witnessed Ryanair’s growth since it started the low fares revolution in Europe. I fly Ryanair when there’s no other choice. I fly with trepidation, wondering what trickery will be used to add additional costs to the flight. Booking tickets online or checking-in luggage, the threat is always there. John Fingleton, Chief Executive of the Office of Fair Trading (OTF) has accused airline Ryanair of “taunting consumers” with “puerile” charges when booking ‘free flights’. Wonderfully put but Ryanair continue unchecked and unchanged. The OFT and other UK consumer groups are rendered ineffective.

Legally, Ryanair gets away with this taunting by cleverly operating “outside the spirit of the law, but within the narrow letter of the law”, say the OFT. This leaves consumer groups ineffective, shifting responsibility to UK law, which can’t keep pace with a business. Above the law and outside the reach of consumer groups, Ryanair generated €340 million profit in 2010. Even after the ash cloud cost them €50 million. CEO Michael O’Leary took away a bonus of €20 million. In terms of profit, who’s to argue? This post aims to expose some of the tricks used by Ryanair.

Ryanair basic truths

  • Ryanair are cheap
  • The advertised fare is not the cost
  • Rather than please, Ryanair aim to deceive
  • Carelessness costs customers
  • Ignorance is billed
  • There’s no reward for customer loyalty
  • It really is cattle class, so join the herd!

Review of Ryanair.com

At first glance, it’s difficult to see how the Ryanair web site competes online with other airlines. EasyJet produce a web site that is visually appealing, less cluttered and easier to use. But looks can be deceiving. The look and feel of the Ryanair site heavily supports its brand image as cheap and unsophisticated. Any designer worth their weight will tell you that the Ryanair colour pallet is nothing if not stand out. Differentiation is everything for Ryanair. Looking deeper, there are clever and deliberate tricks designed to catch the unsuspecting, underneath the brash and unsophisticated exterior of the site.

Competitor screen shots

Ryanair site is deliberately designed to deceive but is it missing a trick?

Persuasion triggers

Make no mistake, thought has gone into the design of the Ryanair site. The site demonstrates a clear understanding of human psychology in its design. Dark patterns, which we see later, and Persuasion trigger techniques are used at key points on the site. As highlighted by David Jarvis, a persuasion trigger known as Social Proof is used on the Ryanair site. This technique plays on the fact that we like to observe other people’s behaviour to judge what’s normal. We then copy this. On the site the power of default settings are used to influence people’s behavior. People see the default as being the ‘recommended option’. Persuading people to believe that the majority of people take options like a cabin bag, SMS confirmation and travel insurance. Otherwise, why would it be opt-out? For more about persuasion triggers see Persuasion Triggers in Design by David Travis.

Dark patterns

Removing travel insurance is deliberately difficult – a good example of a Dark Pattern, where the interaction and information are crafted to be tricky. Users have to opt-out. Should people opt-out, they’re asked to opt back in later. Selling it a second time. As is seen from the screen shot below, the placement of the opt-out option in the middle of the drop-down menu, titled ‘Please select a country of residence’ and amidst countries, is designed to deceive. As a usability professional, this page makes me want to cry.

Remove travel insurance dropdown

A dark pattern designed to deceive

Poor ease of use

Online is Ryanair’s primary route to market. But they’re missing a big trick here. The site is difficult to use. Poor ease of use is proven to:

  • Forfeit revenue
  • Erode brand
  • Frustrate customers

Exacerbated by the poor brand presence and unsophisticated aesthetic, the ease of use of the site is hampered by:

  • Poor error prevention, messages and handling
  • Lack of customer support information
  • Confusing navigation
  • Inconsistent interaction design of buttons, tabs, tables
  • Inadequate feedback on search results (returning no results, no alternative suggestions provided…)
  • Nonsensical URLs
  • Animated GIFs, banners, cross promotions
  • The list goes on…

Booking a ticket

The most important journey for customers, the booking process, is laden with points of error. Next steps are lost in the visual clutter or animated GIFs, banners and cross sell. Deliberately poor default settings make this process longer than other airlines. Delta, for example, have a 4-step booking process, which is very compact. The shortest booking processes are not always the best but Virgin America have a 7-step process. This becomes overwhelming with tick boxes and beyond the tolerances of mainstream users. Ryanair could learn from Delta and Easyjet. Ryanair make it difficult for people to give them money by making the booking process long and difficult. Surprising given how sparing they are elsewhere. In a site full of tricks, they’re missing a very big one. Designing the site with ease of use as the objective would benefit Ryanair’s precious bottom line. Although not a primary concern, it would also make customers happy.

Improved ease of use would lead to:

  • Higher conversion rates
  • Increased brand presence
  • Improved booking process
  • Better user experience

Ryanair brand strategy

Love or loath, the Ryanair brand strategy has made Ryanair one of Europe’s most distinctive brands. They aggressively apply this strategy. In the process, they buck trends and fly in the face of best practice. Boeing, who know a thing or two about aircraft design, say that the interiors of aircraft are designed considering what colours and patterns are most restful to weary travelers. Colour psychology, as on the Web, plays an important role in developing the overall look. Studies show that people in different cultures associate certain colors with similar emotions or concepts. Blue/green is nearly unanimously associated with peace. Yellow, Ryanair’s second brand colour, is favoured throughout the cabin. Yellow, as in nature, is highly visible to the eye. This is why many road signs are bold yellow. The yellow wavelength is long, making it the strongest colour, psychologically. The right yellow will lift our spirits and our self-esteem. In its cabins, Ryanair uses too much of it. There’s no escape. It’s everywhere. The tone is very bright, cheap and attention grabbing. To me, it gives rise to fear and anxiety rather than peace. To Ryanair, it reinforces its brand value of cheap and unsophisticated. It boldly differentiates without consideration.

Ryanair ads

The British Advertising Standards Authority, which monitors ads for accuracy, decency and fairness, recently said that Ryanair had been misleading consumers about the availability of low fares. It referred the case to the Office of Fair Trading, an unusual step by the ad authority, whose decisions are generally heeded. A spokesman for the Advertising Standards Authority cited Ryanair’s “unwillingness and apparent inability” to comply with British advertising codes. The Advertising Standards Authority marketing experts say Ryanair’s public disputes appear to be part of the airline’s branding strategy.

Similar to its cabin and web site design, the heart of its advertising strategy is differentiation of the finest, most deliberate and offensive kind. However, different to in-cabin and online, their ads use a lack of colour to differentiate. A Ryanair ad always follows the same model:

  • Black and white
  • Tacky copy
  • Poor execution
  • Always offensive
Back to school fares

‘Hot fares’ deliberately designed to outrage

From this stripper dressed as a schoolgirl announcing “hot fares” to an image of Churchill declaring “beat terrorism” after the 7/7 attacks, the sky is the limit. Ryanair often make specific attacks on famous people. Gordon Brown, the French president Nicolas Sarkozy and even the Pope have all been aggressively and deliberately parodied. Once the ad is out there, what happens next always follows the same routine:

  • Public backlash
  • Formal complaint
  • Ryanair kicks in with PR campaign
  • O’Leary makes more incendiary claims (usually nonsense)
  • A controversial £25,000 ad campaign becomes a million-pound piece of brand strategy

This deliberately controversial approach reinforces the brand’s image as cheap and unsophisticated. Resulting in Ryanair being one of Europe’s most distinctive brands. I don’t like this advertising. Individually they’re not clever or pleasing. However, collectively as a piece of brand strategy, it’s astoundingly successful. All ads support what could be Ryanair’s brand values:

  1. Low fares
  2. No nonsense
  3. Aggression

With 66 million customers and brand recognition sky high, perhaps they’re redefining brand strategy. Instead of making customers value their brand, they just want people to recognise it, good or bad!

How to cut the cost of flying Ryanair

If you’re flying Ryanair, here are some tips on how to cut the cost:

1. Low fares

Firstly, the advertised fare is misleading because it does not include extras, fees and taxes, as shown below. They’re ‘always’ part of the ‘basic’ price. It pays to become familiar with the Ryanair table of fees.

Ryanair table of fees

Rising cost of flying Ryanair

2. Book early for better deals

The later you book, the more you pay. The last 30% pay for the first 70%, it’s thought. So, get in early to get the best possible price.

3. Insurance

Don’t pay for travel insurance, you don’t need it. Ryanair’s travel insurance is a lot more expensive than most insurance companies, while its cover is considerably less comprehensive. Which?, a British consumer rights publication and web site, has a page on Suggested Minimum Travel Insurance Requirements. Ryanair’s insurance falls well short of this. For example, Ryanair’s policy only offers £50,000 of medical cover; Which? recommends a minimum of two million pounds.

4. Luggage

Across the airline industry, there is an upward trend in luggage costs [infographic]. Ryanair leads this trend. With one of the lowest baggage allowances of 15kg and some of the highest costs in Europe. The cost grows exponentially with every kg over allocated luggage weight. Being aware of luggage allowances is vital to avoid extra charges. Recent changes to checked luggage allowance:

Rising cost of luggage on Ryanair

Rising cost of luggage on Ryanair


  • Ensure you check in online. It cost £6 online compared to £12 at the airport check-in desk.
  • Never check in bags at the airport. Bags can cost £30-£40 more than checking it in online.
  • Ensure bags weigh no more than your allocated baggage allowance – either 15 or 20 kg. Every kg over costs £20.
  • Watch out at peak travel months, July and August. Prices can increase by up to a third.
  • Cut the amount of baggage you take. If there are two of you, put all your stuff in a single bag.
  • Again, never check in bags at the airport.

To find up-to-date allowance, visit the Terms & Conditions page on the Ryanair site.

5. Online Check-in

Ryanair will charge you for the ‘privilege’ of checking in. Both online and at the airport, check-in costs. It pays to check in online. Check-in online is £6 per person, per one-way flight. Check-in costs £12 at the airport check-in desk. Five years ago, it would have been thought absurd to have to pay to queue and check in at an airport. It still is. To avoid higher charges, ensure you check-in online before going to the airport.

6. Priority boarding

If you are a family with small kids, elderly or need help boarding, buy priority boarding for £4 per person, each way. It can make that part of the experience a little better. Ryanair policy is to board disabled customers last!


  • If you’re travelling in a group, buy priority boarding for one member and let them secure seats for the rest.
  • Do not lose your printed boarding pass. The charge to reissue a hand written one is £40.

7. Prepare before boarding

You can bring food and drink on-board. It pays to. The cost of even water is extortionate on Ryanair. Here are some fairly recent costs:

In 2010, web site thisismoney reported that a sandwich that costs around £2 in a supermarket and £2.40 at an airport, can cost as much as £4.39 on board. £3.95 with Flybe. The biggest mark-ups were on items such as crisps, shortbread and muffins. Jaffa Cakes have a 556% mark-up, muffins 736%, and shortbread costs ten times its retail price on one airline.

If rumors are to be believed, Ryanair may soon charge for using the toilet. Lets hope it’s not a long flight!

8. Card charge

Many budget airlines charge to book with a credit/debit card. Only Ryanair charges per person, per flight! That’s £20 for a couple of return flights! Mr Fingleton says ‘Ryanair has this funny game where they have found some very low frequency payment mechanism and say: ‘You can pay with that,’. The £5 booking fee per flight can be avoided using a Mastercard pre-paid card. Cleverly, Ryanair chooses a card that very few people have. Previously it was Visa Electron, but as more people began to take out cards to beat charges, it switched this to pre-paid Mastercard. If you take out a card make sure that you know exactly what you will be charged for it to be issued, to load it up, to spend money, to withdraw money from a cash machine and for monthly or annual fees. Compare these things carefully if you are using the card to save on Ryanair flights. After all, if you don’t fly much, a card could end up costing you more than Ryanair would charge.

9. Terms and conditions

Lengthy but worth a skim read. Points to note are:

Except as provided in Articles 4.2, 10.2 and 10.3 of their Terms and Conditions, all monies paid for flights operated are non-refundable.

10. Happy path; checklist for happier travels:

  • Book flights early to save more
  • Remove travel insurance when booking
  • Check in bags online; none if possible, or under 15kg, but no more than 20kg
  • Print boarding pass and bring to airport
  • Make sure your bags don’t exceed baggage allowance
  • Check in online anytime within 15 days of flight and up to 4 hours before flight

The sky is the limit, if we’re willing to pay!

With 66 million customers and brand recognition rocketing, for Ryanair the sky is the limit. As long as we’re willing to pay the ‘full’ price, Ryanair will continue as one of Europe’s most distinctive brands. Perhaps paving the way for others to adopt the Ryanair model, rather than the Southwest Airlines model. Travellers need to be aware of the hidden cost of low fares. Puerile charges and lack of transparency are the tip of the iceberg. There’s deliberate taunting of customers, dirty tricks, bending of the law and lip service being paid to consumer groups. The result is the downgrading of the whole experience of flying to ‘cattle class’. If that’s the price we’re willing to pay, and price is all that matters to us too, then get in line, join the herd!

Accept that in choosing low fares, we’re giving a thumbs up to price over service. Complaining about service is futile. Unlike Southwest Airlines, they’re not in the customer service business. If you’re not happy, then pay a little more elsewhere and help preserve airlines that care about delivering a satisfying journey at a fair price.

Don’t be fooled by Ryanair. Behind the brash exterior, a sophisticated and deliberate brand strategy is always at work, aggressively reinforcing Ryanair’s brand image as cheap and unsophisticated. This is what drives Ryanair’s success. With more tricks than a circus, it’s surprising that Ryanair is missing a trick online. Making their site difficult to use is proven to frustrate customers, forfeit revenue and erode brand.

I don’t fly Ryanair, where there’s a choice. I hope there’s always a choice. I tip my hat to Southwest Airlines. I acknowledge that Ryanair, a small airline 20 years ago, have differentiated themselves brilliantly. I can’t help but feel that if they carried through further on the Southwest Airlines model, their lives would be easier and we’d all be happier.

Happy travels!


User experience

Peter Merholz – Becoming a Customer Experience-Driven Business


Examples of Dark Patterns can be found and submitted on Dark Patterns, created by Harry Brignull


Aggression a worthy brand builder
Ryanair taking liberties as a brand strategy

Ryanair news

Disabled man charged for oxygen
Ryanair increases checked luggage allowance
Card charges
I hate Ryanair


I wish to whole-heartedly thank the people who took the time to help on this post. Thank you Jon Gibbins and Jane Ward. It pays to have clever friends!

22 comments so far, add yours

The challenge: get back in the saddle

Our passions make us who we are. Passions must be indulged. Riding a bike is one of my great passions. I own five bikes and desperately need another. The formula for the number of bikes a cyclist needs is n + 1 (n being the number the cyclist already has!). Whether up hill or down dale, the longer, harder and faster the better. I simply love to ride.

In his book ‘It’s all about the bike‘, given to me by good friend Richard Caddick, Robert Penn captures why we ride: “I ride to get to work, to keep fit, to bathe in air and sunshine, to escape when the world is breaking my balls, to savour the physical and emotional fellowship of riding with friends, to travel, to stay sane, to skip bath time with my kids, for fun, for a moment of grace, occasionally to impress someone, to scare myself and to hear my boy laugh.”

There are more I could add as a designer; inspire design ideas, solve a design problem. Some are more important than others but ‘for a moment of grace’ is a key reason I ride. I train and race mountain bikes. All in an effort to attain that moment of grace or flow on a bike. Head down, arms tucked and aerodynamic. Core tight, controlled and pedals flying. All for that moment of grace, when it all comes together and it flows. This winter, I had put in place a great base to compete well in the 2011 season. The National Championships were on the cards again, after scoring my first national points last year. The Leadville 100 in Colorado was a possibility. I enter each year, hoping for success in the lottery for selection. I had done two weeks hard training in the winds and hills of Lanzarote. Winter training was bitterly cold at times. The miles were under the belt.

Dalby Forest - Nationals 2010

I’ve always been a lucky cyclist. Small and lightweight, I’ve taken my fair share of falls. I fall well. My luck ran out, not on the side of a mountain, but on the side of a road near my home on the 18th Jan, as I cycled to Mild Bunch HQ to work with my Analog Coop and Mapalong buddies: @dotjay, @jontangerine, @shiflett, and @FictiveCameron.

The chair lift

I was cycling at about 15 miles per hour on a straight piece of road. The sun was bright. It was a cold but beautiful Winter’s morning. Brushing the branches with my shoulder, I was well positioned on the road, as far in as possible. Then, something happened, which my mind could not process. Without an answer, my mind made something up. Telling me the vast increase in speed and the huge impact from behind, was because I was now on a chair lift. My vision became dark and tunnel like, I clearly remember. My response surprised me. I didn’t panic! Maybe that’s how my mind intended it. This chair lift, then dumped me off. Luckily into the side of the road. It was over and I was conscious.

Have others experienced a similar phenomena? Where the mind makes up something when it can’t process what’s going on. There’s research demonstrating that the mind can incorrectly fill in gaps left from our fading memory, but this was new to me. I’m baffled and intrigued.

As I lay on the cold road, I became aware that I had been hit by something. Everything went as you’d expect. People gathered around. The scene was frantic. A lady held my head off the cold, hard road. Her hand was warm. Gently telling me that it would be okay. To stay with her. The emergency service, were quick and practiced. I was off the cold road and in an ambulance. I maintained consciousness.

I didn’t realise at the time but my MacBook Pro being in my backpack, took a huge impact and is a write-off. Right underneath this impact was where my back bone is broken in two places. Luckily the Mac took some of the force away from my spine, as you can see below, saving further injury.

Jon's old laptop looking worse for wear after accident.

Apple saved my legs if not my life, you could say! Not panicking may very well have helped too. I went the direction I was taken, which luckily was into the hedge, rather than back onto the road and oncoming traffic.

It’s thought I was hit by the side door and wing mirror of a large flatbed van. For many a cyclist, poor design of wing mirrors has lead to great injury. Some are metal and do not fold back on impact, causing  great injury. The design of this mirror did not take into consideration its contact with the world around it. Certainly not contact with a softy like me.

The pain was full on now, all down my right hand side. Morphine injections flowed. Oxygen helped with difficult breathing. Frustratingly, uttering my name to help the emergency services, was not possible. Surprisingly, amid all of this, as the medic struggled to take my heart rate, I smiled. There’s either something wrong with the machine, or this guy was seriously fit, I heard him say, which brought on a grin of pride in my Winter’s efforts. I knew then, that I was still with it. My head was no bigger than before! My bike came with me in the ambulance. It also accompanied me to A&E. I wondered when I’d be back in the saddle again. I couldn’t contemplate life without this passion. My recovery already had focus.


The past two weeks, I don’t wish to recount. They were dark. I am very lucky, for lots of reasons. There are people that have to endure a lot more pain and suffering. I had a glimpse and it scared the shit out of me. My heart goes out to anyone going through such trauma. Hospital requires a new vocabulary; intravenous, haemoglobin, pulse, surgical, injections, bloods, bowels, to list but a few of unpleasant words. With the love and support of my wife, Jane, I got through it. Hospitals are no place to get well. I was pure delighted to get home to see my two daughters again.

Two and a half weeks on, I lie here on my good side, typing between naps. My spine is broken. My liver and more importantly, my right kidney have stopped bleeding. I’m less yellow too! The bruised lung inhibits breathing less now. The right side of my body has massive muscle and tissue damage. Time will heal I hope. Of all the mountain bike challenges I’ve done, six hour or twelve hour, this recovery represents the biggest challenge yet. Like all challenges, the mental side is key to success. I know this much. The Leadville 100 motto states, ‘You’re better than you think you are and you can do more than you think.’ This motto focuses on ‘think’ because the people, who run or bike this 100-mile course at 10,000 feet, know to get through it, mental strength is everything. Depending on the various scans, tests, physio and without problems, I hope to walk, swim, run and cycle again. Lets see what time brings.

A designer hospitalised

While in hospital, what was I to do? I was in pain and needing something to take my mind off it. I looked to another passion of mine, design for inspiration. There was little around me to inspire.

Photo in hospital bed

Beautiful things make us happy

Hospitals are all about function and utility. They focus on the individual’s physical, rather than emotional or spiritual well-being. Purposefully, hospitals remove all aesthetic from the patient’s surrounds. The approach seems to be, heal the body and the mind will follow! Many hospitals in the UK even remove flowers. Who’s to argue? In practical terms, it works. There’s two sides to recovery, as there are two sides to people: physical and mental. These are inextricably linked. In my experience, hospitals could cater better for the emotional side of recovery. As humans, we’re pre-wired to like things of beauty. Symmetry, colour, form and balance make us happy. Good design makes us happy, as Don Norman points out in his book ‘Emotional Design‘ (Why we love everyday things). Hospitals are devoid of any beauty by design. This compels us to want to leave, and makes them poor places to get well mentally. This got me down after a period of time. I longed for something beautiful to emotionally connect with, to lift my spirits. There was nothing. Perhaps, this is someplace where hospitals can improve.

A patient’s experience

Being in a road accident, my injuries were not contained to one area of the body. A team of doctors dealt with each of the injuries: one each for liver, kidney and orthopaedic. Each specialist, each excellent, but no one taking a holistic view of my well-being. With one group advocating mobility and another total bed rest, I received mixed messages and was left confused – not knowing whether to sit up or lie down.

This process is reminiscent of how some large sites and companies operate. Each department doing their best individually, in a silo. Just as in health care, this disjointed approach leads to an inconsistent experience for people using a web site. As on some web sites we use, the long tail is less planned and focused than the initial period of intense activity. This leads to inconsistency and sometimes neglect over the longer period. For a web site, this can be months or years. In A&E, this can be a matter of hours or days to go from intensive care, surgical to a recovery ward. I thought as I lay there, what if Apple did health care?

In the end…

There is a lesson to cyclists: it was important to the emergency services and everyone there after that I was waring a helmet, with a hi-visibility jacket and was well positioned on the road. This did not stop me being hit. It did deflect any blame away from me and onto the driver. I was told by Police, later in hospital, that they were looking to charge the driver with a serious driving offense. As cyclists, day or night, we need to do all we can to be seen. It not only puts us on the right side of the law, but it keeps us safe nearly all the time. Join the movement to bring hi-vis jackets back into fashion – it could save your life.

The triumph for me lies in the kindness of my family and also strangers. The hand under the head, the encouraging words, the visit from the police officer while off duty. The non-stop and uplifting support of my wife and kids and all my amazing family in Ireland. The past few weeks, the Irish Channel has seemed bridged. The amazing and continued support from other web professionals, though sites like Twitter, is nothing short of healing, priceless. I’m hugely proud to be a web professional. To be part of a cohesive and caring community, that keeps giving.

There’s the triumph of the human body in adversity. To take an impact and not only survive but start to mend itself. To unleash adrenaline when needed, which by comparison, is far more powerful than the best synthetic pain killer. I feel thankful and lucky to still be here. I thank my lucky stars I was wearing a backpack, helmet and didn’t panic. That I fell away from the road and not into oncoming traffic.

I will get around to thanking everyone individually, but for now here are some anonymous sentiments, which really helped heal:

“Good to hear you talking to us. It’s often a long journey to recovery. Take things minute by minute. Go easy on yourself.”

“So sorry to hear about your accident. Please God you’re now over the worst of it. As my late Mother would say about that van driver ‘that his hole may fester’. God bless you.”

“Wow, Alan! Life can be so shocking. You’re dear to my heart; wish wisdom for doctors; strength, healing, peace for you/family.”

“Send your prayers to @alancolville who get hit on his bike by some dope in a truck. He’s laid up in the hospital plotting his revenge.”

“Relieved to hear I still live in a world with marvellous You in it. Sending good vibes.”

Thanks to @colly for this touching video dedication from the New Adventures conference, which I missed due to the accident. At the conference, designer and fellow Analog Coop colleague, Jon Tan, very kindly dedicated his talk to me. Chuffed!

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Keeping Safe Those Things We Hold Precious; Our Memories

A new post from me – Keeping Safe Those Things We Hold Precious; Our Memories – on 52 Weeks of UX:

Brooklyn Beta was a most memorable web conference. It can be relived through peoples’ stories, anecdotes, images and more, which are strewn far and wide across the web. Although not altogether typical, the quantity of data created around this event demonstrates the ruthless efficiency with which we record moments that matter to us.

We’ve never recorded so much in so many ways. In theory, the delight in rediscovery should be richer than ever before. However, given the complexity involved in these recordings, not least of which are the multiple sites, devices, formats we use, will our online recordings still be there in years to come? Decisions users make and actions designers take now could decide how easy it will be to relive memories with the richness we recorded them.

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Laying claim to our emotions: BMW targets joy

The recent BMW ad entitled ‘Joy’ and narrated by Patrick Stewart states that “BMW makes Joy”. The unique and individual nature of joy makes this statement difficult to believe. This ad is a good example of how companies are getting it wrong as they scramble to position themselves in the new “Experience Economy”.

The general theme of the ad is good: “We realised a long time ago, that what you make people feel is just as important as what you make.” It is also visually beautiful and plays well to BMW’s already extensive brand collateral. However, the editorial – particularly the line ‘BMW makes joy’ – does seem disconnected with this new economy and what we know about human behaviour.

Driving can bring joy, but the experience doesn’t end there. It’s a myriad of things that contribute, like the road, where you are, who you’re with, where you are going or have come from and what you’re listening to, to name but a few. Products don’t make experiences without context. Context means how the product fits into people’s lives and how it makes them feel.

Showing a good understanding of people, car manufacturers spend a lot of time designing the driver’s door handle and gear stick of their cars. Why? Because they’ve recognised that the impression left by the first touch is critical in forming opinion. Showing less understanding of people, this ad targets the emotion of joy in an attempt to re-market BMW.

The Experience Economy marks a switch from mass and segment marketing to a focus on the individual and what matters to them. It’s surprising that a claim to commoditise joy, which is a fleeting, individual and an elusive sensation, is made at this time. If we were to believe that BMW makes joy, then to whom do we go to for truth, enlightenment or wonder?

BMW attempts to commoditise joy in the hope of connecting emotionally with potential customers. Many companies are struggling to connect with people as they change their focus away from ‘what they do’ to ‘why they do it’. Even more difficult to believe is British Petroleum (BP). This company want us to believe that it “contributes to a better quality of life” as it struggles to stop the flood of oil into the US Gulf of Mexico.

In this new economy, innovative companies like Apple are dominating. Apple delivers the sensation of freedom, beauty and wonder through the iPod and iPhone, without explicitly laying claim to these emotions. As Jared Spool points out in “Innovation is the new black”, Apple’s true genius is not the iPod but instead it’s the experience of using the iPod, iTunes and going into an Apple store. The marketing of iPod focused on the ‘coolness’ of the device. Apple made people believe that having one would make them more accepted among their peers. They appealed to our sense of cool but did not tell us what to feel. They let the product do the talking.

Apple, and others flourishing in this economy, know that there is a disconnect between what you tell people to feel and how they feel. Simon Sinek brilliantly explains the biology (not psychology) behind this disconnect in his TED talk on “How great leaders inspire action“. He highlights that in this economy, people don’t buy ‘what you do’ or ‘how you do it’; they buy ‘why you do it’. Sinek states that our emotions are controlled by a part of the brain called the limbic brain, which is responsible for feelings, human behaviour and all decision making, but has no capacity for language. The neocortex is the part of the brain that deals with language. Hence, using language to appeal to our emotions is not straightforward.

We have a rich and colourful vocabulary to describe this disconnect:

  • Words can’t describe
  • Speechless
  • Tongue-tied
  • Lost for words
  • Not feeling it

All these terms are used when we simply haven’t the words to describe how we feel. They are needed because the part of the brain driving this feeling has no capacity for language, hence lost for words. In reverse, trying to plant words like joy in this part of the brain in the hope of eliciting an emotion, simply doesn’t work. This is where the ‘Joy’ ad falls flat.

So, what should BMW have done? They could take stock of the extensive brand collateral already existing. As the ad visually demonstrates, just owning a BMW causes a sense of validation and accomplishment for many people. These are important emotions in any economy. Good or bad, people’s experiences of a product or a site, which includes the context of use, will decide how they feel. No amount of marketing or telling them how they should feel will change this behaviour. For BMW, just let the cars do the talking and chances are they will get the joy they are looking for.

For other companies? Accept that biologically, people’s emotions can’t be easily claimed using words. Remember that emotions like frustration, and even anger, are the easier to make people feel through poor design and user experience. Ensure products and sites cause no such emotions. Listen and observe users to know when, where and why frustration could occur. It’s at these points, or ‘moments of truth’, where excellence in design needs to be assured.

For now, no joy BMW, but great heritage and cars.

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Taming Goliath: Selling Design to Large Companies

In case you have missed it, my article –  Taming Goliath: Designing for Large Companies – is now online at UXBooth in two parts:

Part 1 – Taming Goliath: Selling UX to Large Companies

Large companies are the financial backbone of the web industry, but their size and complex organizational structure can make them challenging to work with. Having worked on both sides of the fence, I’ve seen great ideas become the casualties of this struggle between the proverbial David and Goliath, as agencies or freelancers meet face to face with Big Business to create web sites. Closing the door to large companies means missing out on important revenue, good work, and more people using our designs, so how can we make large companies work for us?

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Part 2 – Taming Goliath: Collaborating with Large Companies

Collaborating effectively can be difficult for large companies. Projects can involve multiple locations, people, systems, and other outside companies. Large companies also tend to be departmental rather than project-focused, and this can hinder working together. But, being able to bring people together is key to delivering successful sites for large companies. Here are some tools and techniques to improve collaboration on projects.

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Path to Analog

“Find a job you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.”

— Confucius

I feel lucky to love what I do. It’s a feeling I see reflected in many web professionals. But, there have been days — we’ve all had them — where the stars misalign, and for whatever reason, the love is lost, leaving only the work. It is these days that have taken me to Analog.

At Analog, it all comes together; good people, good work. My journey has taken me ’round the houses to Analog. Previously, my work has pitched me on both sides of the fence, as the customer experience guy within mammoth companies, and as a UX guy at agencies or as a freelancer. Although these experiences were hugely valuable, they often failed to prevent what I do becoming more like work.

The ingredients to loving our job varies from person to person, but I knew I was on to something when I crossed paths with Jon Tan and Jon Gibbins at the Grow Collective, a Bristol-based co-operative. Skip forward three years, and we arrive at Analog.

Making Analog happen has taken love — and some work, too. Being a worldwide co-operative with two members from the US — Andrei Zmievski and Chris Shiflett — and three members from the UK — Jon Gibbins, Jon Tan, and myself — all making web sites, feels like a first. We know from our experience doing good work on the Web, being first is never easy. Having this knowledge as a touchstone has been invaluable in setting up Analog, in the murky waters of international tax and corporate law, where we were often out of our depth. Here are some of the hurdles we overcame in setting up Analog, which may help others who choose a path less travelled.

Deciding to be a limited company would have been easy. Being a common company structure, it is well understood by legal and tax people, so there is plenty of help and support. We quickly discovered that taking a less travelled path is decidedly more difficult, as people were less able to see past traditional approaches to companies. As Analog, we wanted to be a co-op for many reasons, but mainly because co-ops exist for the good of their members, not the company, and to old hands like us, that makes sense. We learned that co-ops are just not on the radar of most tax or legal experts. We found ourselves breaking new ground, and without considerable help from the folks at the Co-operative Development Agency (CDA), this could have been even more difficult.

Such were the complexities encountered in setting up Analog across international boundaries, at times we felt as if the US and UK had never done business before. We learned fast that US and UK law has not caught up with how we work on the Web — not surprising, given how quickly the Web changes. For example, all companies must have a main address or head office. With people in multiple locations, where decisions are made is used to identify where the head office should be registered. For Analog, because we work and make decisions across international boundaries using services like Skype, defining where the head office would be was not as clear as for a more traditional company. Our headquarters, if it existed, would most likely be mid-Atlantic. This was one of the simpler issues we encountered, but one which began to highlight how we no longer fit into a more established framework for a company. It also demonstrated that many professions still hang onto old ways of working. Being decidedly slower, not embracing technology in the way that we do, and looking more to the past then the future. Although we felt constricted and shackled at the time, we relished the freedom to make less established decisions. This freedom made us glad to be web professionals.

The lawyers and tax experts we encountered seemed comfortable working in murky waters, where there was no right or wrong answer, just compromises to consider. We found this strange, because designing web sites, we try to work in absolutes, even with visual design. We gather information, solve problems, and offer clear solutions, avoiding grey areas.

Initially, and even now, we grapple with time zones from Bristol to New York and onto San Francisco. We are learning to use it to our advantage, through better use of technology and services like Google Wave, Basecamp, Dropbox, and by working smarter. It now gives us the ability, as a group, to have a longer day. So while the Analog day starts with the Bristol folks at 9 in the morning, Andrei in San Francisco is still working past midnight in the UK. That’s a long day, everyday. It feels good to know that while Jon Gibbins, Jon Tan, and I are asleep, Andrei and Chris are solving problems and making solutions ready for when we wake up.

But there is still the physical gap, which Skype has been key to bridging. Services like Dropbox, Basecamp, Google Wave have also been invaluable to our collaboration. We rarely use email now, and a Twitter DM tends to be how we get in touch with each other quickly. There is still a profound opportunity to improve remote collaboration, as the process for how we work can be awkward. Many of the solutions we have tried are designed for person-to-person but do not scale, like Skype video, for example. Collectively, these services are good, but individually, there is more that can be done. We are still looking for the one solution to do it all and would be interested to hear from others in similar situations. There are some good people, like Dustin Moskovitz (founder of Facebook) applying their ideas and experience to help improve how we work.

If we don’t find a solution that works perfectly for us soon, we may have to make it ourselves, which would be a great challenge. The freedom enabled by technical innovation, changes in behaviour, and attitude toward remote working, opens up a world of possibilities for who we work with and for whom, which is what has enabled Analog to happen now.

Of course, many pieces have fallen into place to make Analog possible, not least of which are the people and it being the right time in our lives. Jon Tan, a founding member of Analog, speaks beautifully to these in Introducing Analog. Also hear what another founding member, Chris Shiflett Hello, Analog had to say on the subject. And finally, Andrei Zmievski’s perspective in Say hello to Analog. Significantly on the Web, and somewhat unique to it, there is the openness and willingness to share knowledge, as exemplified by the open source ethos. Having worked across other platforms like TV, this openness is rare. On the Web, no longer does the future of technology lay solely in the hands of large software companies. The code has been liberated, resulting in a little co-op like Analog being able to make whatever we can imagine. And, when we are done, we probably tell you how, because that’s how we learn. This makes me very proud to work on the Web.

After a long journey, it feels like I’m at the beginning of a new year and a new job, which I love. I’m proud to work on the Web and be a member of Analog, a really neat co-op of good people doing good work. As web professionals, we embrace technology and recognise changes in peoples behaviours, which has helped us remove international boundaries and make the possibilities enless for who we work with. Thankfully, clients get it, too, which is absolutely key. Collaborating remotely may not perfect yet, but it is definitely getting there. We hope you enjoy the one pager that introduced Analog to the world as much as we enjoyed making it. Thanks to all for the support so far; I’m still overjoyed with all the kind words and would like to wish you an excellent 2010.

If you would like us to let you know how we are doing, follow @analogcoop. If you would like to work wit us, our doors wide open, so why not get in touch.

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