Journal tags: uxlondon



Service design on the Clearleft podcast

If you’re subscribed to the Clearleft podcast there’s a new episode winging its way across the airwaves to alight in your podcast software of choice.

This episode is all about service design. More precisely, it’s about me trying to understand what service design is. I don’t think I’m alone in being unsure of its meaning.

So in some ways, this is similar to the first episode, which involved a lot me asking “What exactly is a design system anyway?” But for the service design episode, rather than using interviews as my source material, I’ve dug into the archives of UX London. There are past talks on Clearleft’s Vimeo channel. I made plenty of use of presentations by Kerry Bodine, Jamin Hegeman, and Lou Downe.

That worked out well, but I felt there was still something missing from the episode. It needed a good story to wrap things up. So I cornered Rich for a chat about a project Clearleft worked on for Brighton council. That did the trick!

Again, there’s not much of me in this one. I’m there to thread the narrative together but my voice is not the one doing the explaining or the story-telling.

The episode ended up being almost half an hour long. Like I said before, rather than trying to squeeze each episode into a predefined timeslot, each episode will be as long as needs to be. And this one needed the time for Rich to tell his story.

Ooh, and I even tried adding in some sound effects during that part! It probably just sounds cheesy, but I’m still trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t.

Anyway, have a listen to this episode and see what you think. It’s got dead badgers, Downton Abbey, icebergs, and airplanes. Service design really does encompass a lot!

100 words 060

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.

100 words 059

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.

100 words 057

It’s UX London week. That’s always a crazy busy time at Clearleft. But it’s also an opportunity. We have this sneaky tactic of kidnapping a speaker from UX London and making them give a workshop just for us. We did it a few years ago with Dave Grey and we got a fantastic few days of sketching out of it.

This time we grabbed Jeff Patton. He spent this afternoon locked in the auditorium at 68 Middle Street teaching us all about user story mapping. ‘Twas most enlightening and really helped validate some of the stuff we’ve been doing lately.

Responsive workshopping

I spent most of last week up in Greenwich for this year’s UX London. ‘Twas a most excellent event. The move to the new venue gave the whole event a much more fun vibe and the format of a morning of talks followed by an afternoon of workshops was perfect.

Andy did a great job curating the line-up. It had a bit of a dConstruct-y feel, and not just because we had old friends like Marty, Peter, and Hannah back: Genevieve Bell, Simone Rebaudengo and Richard Seymour all broke our brains in different wonderful ways.

Hats off to Kate who worked her ass off to make sure that everything ran smoothly. Seriously, you wouldn’t believe the amount of work she did. The change of venue and format for this year resulted in at least twice as much work as usual.

In the middle of UX London’s three days, I ran a workshop called Responsive UX. As I told the audience that morning when I was pitching the workshop, I got the title by taking the term “responsive design” and doing a find-and-replace on the word “design” with the phrase “UX”. After all, what’s the difference? Right, Peter?

Seriously though, this workshop was a little different in that I wasn’t covering any HTML or CSS or JavaScript. It was much more about planning for the unknown and good ol’-fashioned content priority and hierarchy.

I wasn’t entirely pleased with how it went. It was a workshop of two halves. The first half had far too much of me talking (and ranting), probably preaching to the choir. But I felt I had to lay the groundwork first. The second half—when everybody got hands on with paper-based exercises—was much better.

I learned my lesson: show, don’t tell. I’ll be doing a full day responsive workshop at Ampersand in June. I plan to make sure that there’s less of me talking and more making and collaborating. Also, because it’s a full day, I’ll be able to get down to the nitty-gritty of markup and style sheets.

And don’t forget; if you want me to come to your company sometime and do a workshop there, no problemo.

Some people at the workshop asked about me publishing my slides. The slides by themselves really don’t contain much information but I’ve published them on Speakerdeck anyway. But what’s more valuable are the URLs to articles and resources I mentioned along the way. So here’s the structure of the workshop together with links to examples and further reading…



Progressive Enhancement


Conditional Loading

Visual Design


Responsive refresh

Another week, another responsive web site.

Two weeks ago, it was St. Paul’s School. Last week, it was Salter Cane. This week, I’ve been working on next year’s UX London site, implementing a nice little design refresh courtesy of Paul.

More pages will be added soon but for now, it’s essentially like a poster for the conference.

Back when I was working on the first UX London site two years ago, I was building it together with Natalie, and I mean literally together: we were pair-programming. Well, I guess programming isn’t quite right for HTML and CSS, but we were pair-writing. It was an excellent experience.

Anyway, Natalie being Natalie, the UX London site was built with rock-solid markup with a flexible layout. All the pieces were in place for a responsive web design so once I was done with the current refresh, I spent a few minutes writing some media queries.

UX London (1440) UX London (1024) UX London (760) UX London (480)

You can see the results for yourself.


It was conferences-a-go-go in London the week before last. As Future of Web Design—which was, by all accounts, excellent—was winding down, UX London was kicking off. Fears of ashcloud disruption to both events remained happily unrealised.

I went along for the first day of UX London. All the speakers were excellent but it was a particular thrill to see the amazing Scott McCloud speak. I had high expectations and they were duly surpassed.

I didn’t attend any of the workshops on the subsequent two days. Instead, Clearleft kidnapped Dave Gray and whisked him off to Brighton. There we spent two days learning sketching-fu from the master.

It was very informative and a lot of fun. Dave is a superb teacher and by the end of the two days, we were all feeling a lot more confident in our abilities to communicate through drawings. I expect there’s going to be lots of future activity on display in the Sketchleft pool on Flickr.


This is the last week during which you can grab a ticket for UX London at the early bird price. From February 1st, the price goes up by a hundred squid (and from April 1st, the price goes up by another hundred squid—no joke).

In case you’re wondering whether or not you should go, wonder no more. Just check out the line-up of speakers and imagine three solid days of inspirational talks and hands-on workshops in their company. If attended last year’s event, you know what a great gathering it is. If you didn’t attend last year, talk to someone who did.

Of course, it could be that even if you want to go, you still need to convince somebody in your company to send you. Let’s face it, UX London is a very different beast from dConstruct.

dConstruct is deliberately low in price and a more rough’n’ready one-day affair. One of the reasons why we try to keep the price of dConstruct down is so that just about anybody can afford to come: freelancers, students, whatever. If that means we can’t afford to feed everyone or hand out goodies, then so be it—everyone fends for themselves at lunchtime and there’s no schwag.

The audience for UX London is a bit different. It’s almost exclusively attended by people who have been sent by their company. With one day of presentations and two full days of workshops, and all three days fully catered, the price is, of course, far higher than dConstruct …although if you go to dConstruct and attend both days of workshops beforehand, then it works out at much the same price as UX London’s early bird ticket.

Anyway, if you are in that situation—working at a company where you have to convince someone to send you to training events like UX London—Kimberly Blessing has written a guide to getting your conference or training request approved. She shares her three-step strategy:

  1. Build a strong case.
  2. Request funding.
  3. Negotiate!
    • Try before you buy.
    • Strength in numbers.
    • Volunteer.
    • Ask for partial funding.
    • Finally, if you must: send yourself.

If you’ve got any other techniques, share them in the comments to Kimberly’s post.


This is a busy month for conferences.

UX London just wrapped up. I went along on Monday to listen to the stellar line-up of speakers before the subsequent two days of workshops kicked off. It was, as expected, fantastic. Judging from the scuttlebutt on Twitter, a good time was had by all for three straight days.

I had an all-too brief chat with Jared but I knew I’d be seeing him again soon. We’re both going to be speaking at . See you next week in Boston, I said.

The last time I was in Boston was back in November for Jared’s UI13 conference. I had a great time. Boston is definitely my kind of town. But then, as an Irishman, I would say that.

I’ll be bringing my mandolin along with me but I don’t know if I’ll be brave enough to actually play at any of the sessions. Still, if you live in Boston and fancy meeting up for a pint and a tune, let me know. If you don’t live in Boston but you’ll be attending an An Event Apart, then a Sam Adams or two is definitely on the cards.

I’m excited but nervous. Excited because An Event Apart is always such a great, great conference with excellent speakers. Nervous because… well, it’s a great, great conference with excellent speakers. The bar is set very high. I’ve been agonising over my talk—entitled Future Shock Treatment—and I keep vacillating between thinking it’s going to be quite good and thinking that it’s going to completely suck. I guess there’s only one way to find out for sure.

Once An Event Apart finishes, I’ll be heading back across the Atlantic to London …like, literally the moment that An Event Apart finishes. That’s because I need to get straight back for which starts right after An Event Apart. And I won’t be alone. Stan and Malarkey will be on the same flight, winging their way from Massachusetts to Blightly to reprise their talks.

For my part, I’ll be moderating the closing Hot Topics panel. I am rubbing my hands in gleeful anticipation. I love moderating panels. I get real kick out of being the .

See you in Boston, London, or wherever else I happen to end up this month.


One of my resolutions for this year (and the year before) is to try reduce the amount of jet fuel I’m responsible for pumping into the atmosphere. So far, my speaking schedule for the year looks reasonably in-keeping for that aim.

Next month I will be flying to Austin for South by Southwest. I wouldn’t miss that for anything. Like last year, my plan was to go but not speak. Like last year, that plan has changed. Tantek asked me to join him on his microformats panel to talk about some of the things I’ve been doing on Huffduffer.

I can’t resist the opportunity to ramble on about my newest toy. I’ll be blabbing on about Huffduffer closer to home when I give a talk here in Brighton on the third of March at £5 App. The last £5 App event was amazing, featuring a crowdsourced adventure game, fighting sumo robots, duelling bluetooth phone lightsabres, and augmented Christmas reality.

When I get back from Southby, I’ll be popping over to Frankfurt at the end of March for the European Accessibility Forum where I’ll be wearing my moderator hat for a panel on accessible web applications.

In April I don’t even have to leave the country. I’ll be speaking at an inaugural grassroots event called Bamboo Juice down at the Eden Project in Cornwall. What a great location for a geek gathering! And the event is priced at a very affordable 99 quid too.

June is when things get a little crazy. First of all, there’s UX London in the middle of the month. I won’t be speaking but I will be helping out and doing my bit to make sure that everything goes smoothly. I’m excited, and slightly intimidated, to be involved in such an intense, intimate three-day event. If you’re thinking about going, I suggest you sign up by February 25th, when the early bird pricing ends.

Shortly after UX London, I’ll be popping over to Boston to speak at An Event Apart, a conference where the bar is set scarily high. I’m already panicking about meeting the event’s very high standards.

Then, literally right after that I’ll be going straight back to London for @media. I’ll be fulfilling my now-traditional duty as moderator of the closing hot topics panel—always a good opportunity for some mischievous fun.

I know that looks like quite a hectic schedule but compared to last year, it’s positively relaxed. And most of those events are reachable by train rather than plane.

I do have one other long-distance flight lined up but it’s for pleasure, not business. Tomorrow Jessica and I are flying to Seattle. It’s going to be a short trip but I hope to meet up with some of my Seattle-ite buddies while I’m there. Get in touch if you’re going to be around.

The Rise of HTML5

Registration opened a couple of days ago for the latest Clearleft event. UX London will be taking place from June 15th to 17th. This will be a very different event to dConstruct.

For a start, the format is based around workshops (although there will also be a day of presentations). Then there’s the timescale: UX London will last for three days. Finally, there’s the intimacy factor. Whereas the attendance for dConstruct is somewhere between 700 and 800 people, UX London will be deliberately limited to around 150.

Our motivation for putting together this event was partly to bring a kick-ass UX here in the UK for a change. But mostly we wanted to put together the kind of event that we wanted to attend. So we drew up our dream line-up and incredibly, we got everyone we wanted: Dan Saffer, Jared Spool, Jeff Veen …and Don fucking Norman (excuse my French but I find it very hard to say Don Norman will be speaking at UX London without interjecting some indication of my excitement).

Andy has written more about the event on his blog which has, over the past week, arisen from its deep slumber.

The site itself launched right before Christmas. Natalie and I did the front-end build and I’m pretty damned pleased with how it turned out. Behold the liquidy goodness!

We used this as an opportunity to really push what Dan has been calling progressive enrichment: sprinkling in some modern CSS declarations even if not every browser gets all of them—something that Malarkey has been banging on about for quite a while now.

So if you view the UX London site in IE6 it looks fine. Nothing special though. But if you view the site in a browser like Safari, a lot of little details shine through. The design is pretty much a test-case for the property using . Depending on the browser width, multiple translucently shadowed elements can overlap and it’s interesting to see how browsers handle this (Safari’s additive approach seems correct to me).

On the markup side of things, we decided to write the site in HTML5. But wait! Isn’t HTML5 going to take another few decades before it’s finished?

Well, no. That little bit of bollocks was spread ‘round by people who misread the timeline, underestimating the importance of “working draft” and overestimating the importance of “proposed recommendation”. Admittedly, those are pretty confusing and unintuitive labels for it’s ready and it’s been finished for ages and now it’s 100% supported in at least two implementations.

It turns out that when it comes to the markup, HTML5 isn’t all that different to what has come before. It’s all the DOM gubbins—which should allow a more declarative approach to building web apps—that is the real hard stuff that requires browser support in order to work. If you’re not interested in that side of things, much of the HTML5 spec won’t even be relevant to you. For your convenience, Michael Smith has put together a markup-only version of the spec.

From a semantic perspective, the most important additions to the markup language are the structural elements such as header, article, section and so on. Bruce Lawson has put together a test case to show that you can use these elements and still style them in most browsers. For pesky Internet Explorer, you can use a neat little JavaScript trick that John Resig discovered a while back. Alas, Camino still doesn’t play nice with styling the new elements. But that isn’t going to stop Bruce realigning his site to use HTML5’s new structural elements.

For the UX London site, we didn’t go quite that far. We stuck to using divs with class attributes for our structure. But we could still build on the work that has gone into the HTML5 structural elements. Rather than coming up with our own class names, we used the names proposed in the spec: article, section, aside, etc.

Now our document structure has pre-built documentation. Want to know what class="article" denotes? RTFM.

Using HTML5 elements as a basis for a naming convention isn’t a new idea. Malarkey has written about developing naming conventions from HTML5. Jon Tan also wrote about preparing for HTML5 with semantic class names. Oli Studholme put both of those articles together to create a handy little structural cheatsheet. Use microformat class names for the small stuff; use HTML5 class names for the bigger stuff.

Apart from providing easier documentation, there’s another good reason to take this approach: interoperability. Think about how much easier user styling would be if sites shared many of the same class names. Even if you don’t think that they are the best class names—I know, for instance, that Malarkey doesn’t like the presentational smell of footer—the benefits of an aggregate shared vocabulary could be very empowering. So if you do insist on creating a CSS framework that mandates using certain specific names (a concept I despise) please, please, please use those class names.

On the subject of user styling, there’s a site ID of uxlondon-com on the UX London site. Huffduffer, another HTML5 site, has an ID of huffduffer-com on every page. But rather putting these IDs on the body element, it seems more meaningful to me to add them on the html element itself.

A couple of weeks after the UX London site launched, another event site went live: the beautifully-redesigned An Event Apart. It’s also written in HTML5. Jeffrey has written about the design and Eric has written about the markup.

Huffduffer, UX London, An Event Apart and now The Watchmaker Project …there’s quite an exciting air of experimentation around using HTML5 right now. Personally, I’ve found it to be a fun way of breaking out and trying something new. I recommend giving it a whirl. Until recently you would have needed to use to test your markup but now that’s been integrated into the W3C validator so all your old bookmarklets and tools will still work.

Even if you decide against writing in HTML5 itself, at least consider using those HTML5-inspired class names for your structural naming convention where appropriate.