Wednesday, May 27th, 2015

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Today, as part of a crack Clearleft team, I travelled to Leamington Spa. That’s Royal Leamington Spa to you.

This seems like a perfectly pleasant town. Fortunately for us, our visit coincides with a pub quiz down at the local hipster bar—the one serving Mexican food with a cajun twist. Naturally we joined in the quizzing fun.

We thought we were being sensible by jokering the “science and nature” round, but it turned out we should’ve jokered “puppets and dummies” or “musicians in the movies”—a clean sweep! Who could’ve foretold that Andy Budd’s favourite film, Freejack, would feature?

Tuesday, May 26th, 2015

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As a conference organiser, it’s easy to see yourself as being in a position of weakness. You’re hustling hard to put on a great event, but you are a victim to the whims of the ticket-buying public. So you might well be tempted to make whatever compromises are necessary just to break even.

But the truth is that, as a conference organiser, you are in a position of power. You decide which voices will be amplified. You might think that your conference line-up needs to reflect the current state of the world. But it could also highlight a better world.

Responsive Day Out 3: The Final Schedule

There’s just a few more weeks to go until the third and final Responsive Day Out and I can’t wait! It’s going to be unmissable so, like, don’t miss it. If you haven’t already got your ticket, it’s not too late. And remember: it’s a measly £80.

On June 19th, follow the trail of eager geeks to the Corn Exchange at the Brighton Dome, a short walk from the train station. We’ll be using the main Dome entrance on Church Street and registration starts at 9am, with the first talk at 10am.

I’ve already talked about the topics that will be covered on the day. Here’s what I’m planning for the day’s schedule (subject to change):

09:00 - 10:00Registration
10:00 - 10:20Alice
10:20 - 10:40Rachel
10:40 - 11:00Alla
11:00 - 11:15Chat with Alice, Rachel, and Alla
11:15 - 11:45Break
11:45 - 12:05Zoe
12:05 - 12:25Jason
12:25 - 12:45Heydon
12:45 - 13:00Chat with Zoe, Jason, and Heydon
13:00 - 14:30Lunch
14:30 - 14:50Jake
14:50 - 15:10Ruth
15:10 - 15:30Peter
15:30 - 15:45Chat with Jake, Ruth, and Peter
15:45 - 16:15Break
16:15 - 16:35Rosie
16:35 - 16:55Lyza
16:55 - 17:15Aaron
17:15 - 17:30Chat with Rosie, Lyza, and Aaron
17:30 - ??:??Pub!

Now, what with it being a measly £80, don’t expect much in the way of swag. In fact, don’t expect anything in the way of swag. You won’t even get a lanyard; just a sticker. There won’t be any after-party; we can all just wander off to the nearby pubs and cafés instead. And lunch won’t be provided. But that’s okay, because Street Diner will be happening just up the road that day, and I’ve already confirmed that The Troll’s Pantry will be present—best burgers in Brighton (or anywhere else for that matter).

It’s going to be such a great day! Like I said …unmissable.

Monday, May 25th, 2015

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Jessica and I went to see Mad Max: Fury Road at the Dukes At Komedia last week. We both thoroughly enjoyed it. There’s the instant thrill of being immersed in a rollicking good action movie but this film also stayed with me long after leaving the cinema.

This isn’t really Max’s movie at all—it’s Furiosa’s. And oh, what a wonderful protagonist she is.

Max’s role in this movie is to be an ally. And for that reason, I see him as a role model—one who offers a shoulder, not to cry on, but to steady a rifle’s aim.

Sunday, May 24th, 2015

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Brad is visiting Brighton this weekend after his stint at UX London. I’ve been showing him around town, introducing him to the finest coffee, burgers, and beers that Brighton has to offer.

We travelled out to Lewes yesterday evening to partake in Jamie’s birthday celebrations. There followed a night of dancing to a wonderfully fun punk covers band, complete with guest vocal appearances from the extended Freeman family: Jamie doing Elvis Costello, his brother Tim doing The Sex Pistols, his other brother Martin doing The Jam, and his cousin Ben doing The Stranglers.

Ah, so much nostalgia and revisited youth!

Saturday, May 23rd, 2015

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Yesterday Ireland held a referendum to amend its constitution in order to provide equal rights to gay couples who want to get married. Today it’s clear that the “yes” vote is going to carry the day.

This is amazing.

I left Ireland in the early ’90s. When I told people abroad about the medieval legal situation in Ireland on contraception, divorce, and homosexuality …well, people just wouldn’t believe me. Combined with the nationalistic political situation, I got used to a sort of permanent miasma of embarrassment towards the country I came from.

But today I feel a swell of pride.

Friday, May 22nd, 2015

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I had band practice with Salter Cane today. It’s been ages since the last rehearsal. Our drummer, Emily, has been recovering from surgery on her foot, hence the hiatus.

I was sure that this practice would be a hard slog. Not only had we not played together for a long time, but we’re trying out a new rehearsal space too. Sure enough, there were plenty of technical difficulties that arose from trying to get things working in the new space. But I was pleasantly surprised by how the songs sounded. We were pretty tight. One might even say we rocked.

Browser testing

On just about every client project that I work on, the subject of browser support comes up. Rightly so. It’s an important issue on which to get mutual understanding and agreement. But all too often, this important question is framed in a binary, true/false, go/no-go way: “Which browsers do we/don’t we support?”

Really, the first thing to get agreement on is not a list of browsers, but what we mean by the word “support”. In my mind, that word implies that a user of a particular browser should be able to accomplish the primary tasks on the website, whether that’s reading an article, booking a ticket, or buying a product. That doesn’t mean that the task must be experienced in pixel-perfect fidelity to an ideal visual design.

But to others, that’s exactly what “support” means. Personally, I’d call that optimisation. As Brad puts it:

There is a difference between support and optimization.

So to put it in glib terms, I support every browser …but I optimise for none.

Alright, fine. But I still need to get to some mutual understanding with a client about which browsers will get the optimised experience and which browsers will simply be supported.

Personally, I like the Filament Group’s approach of discussing this in terms of features rather than browsers. It makes sense to me to say the browsers that support geolocation will get the geolocation features, or the browsers that support offline caching will get the offline caching features. There’s no need to produce a list of what those browsers are for each feature, and in any case, the list would be constantly changing and updating with each new browser release.

But—and this is a big but—nine times out of ten, when the issue of browser support comes up, it isn’t about functionality; it’s about branding. What clients generally want to know is which browsers will get the ideal visual design. Obviously the newer versions of Chrome and Firefox are going to get all the lovely layouts, rounded corners, gradients, transparencies, and animations …but what about older versions of Internet Explorer? Even if users of IE8 and IE7 can accomplish their tasks, will the “degraded” visual presentation hurt their experience?

My hypothesis is that it won’t. Users of older versions of Internet Explorer aren’t doing a side-by-side comparison of the same website opened up in the latest Chrome nightly. Considering what their daily usage must be like—unable to use Facebook, unable to use Google services—I suspect that they are happy just to be able to complete their task, regardless of the site’s visual fidelity.

There’s another viewpoint—one that I’ve heard expressed by clients—that even users of older browsers should still get the ideal, pixel-perfect visual design. The hypothesis here is that, by allowing someone to experience anything less than the perfect presentation, the client’s brand will be damaged in the mind of that person.

Like I said, this is something that comes up on most client projects, and this is the point at which we’d have to come to an agreement about which hypothesis we’re going to go with. Of course I’m going to argue in favour of the first hypothesis, but I’ve come to realise that arguing in favour of either hypothesis is the wrong approach. We shouldn’t be debating this …we should be testing it.

We have two competing hypotheses about a group of users. Instead of trying to read their minds, why not test with that group of users to find out which hypothesis is correct? No matter what the results of the test, they will be valuable either way.

Think about the amount of work that’s going to go in to optimising for older browser versions—it’s going to take quite a bit of time and money. It makes sense to ensure that this time and money isn’t being spent on little more than a hunch that pixel-perfection is important to those users. On the other hand, if the test reveals that actually those users really will have a lesser opinion of a brand unless they get pixel-perfect parity with newer browsers, then you’ll know that the time and money spent making that happen isn’t wasted.

Josh wrote recently that 1 hour of research saves 10 hours of development time:

Or, in longer terms if more people appreciated how one day of user research can save weeks of coding I think they would do it more. It is remarkable what you decide to not build after talking to a few people closely.

When it comes to decisions around browser support/optimisation, I think that even a little bit of up-front research and testing could potentially save a lot of time, money, and heartache. I’m not sure exactly what form the testing should take, but I’m interested in figuring it out.

Thursday, May 21st, 2015

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I spent the day in Greenwich, where there were two different web conferences happening simultaneously—Clearleft’s own UX London, and the annual Talk Web Design conference for web students at the University of Greenwich.

I was bouncing between both events, which meant I never really got immersed in either one. But that’s okay. I managed to meet up with plenty of people at both.

There was one unmissable talk today: Charlotte’s public speaking debut, opening up Talk Web Design with a presentation about her transition from student life to working at Clearleft. It was great. I knew it would be.

Wednesday, May 20th, 2015

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Today was the first day of UX London. I was planning to attend. I decided I’d skip the first couple of talks—because that would entail rising at the crack of dawn—but I was aiming to get to the venue by the time the first break rolled around.

No plan survives contact with the enemy and today the enemy was the rail infrastructure between Brighton and London. Due to “unforeseen engineering works”, there were scenes of mild-mannered chaos when I arrived at the station.

I decided—wisely, in retrospect—to abandon my plan. Here’s hoping it’s better by tomorrow.