I gave blood yesterday. It was my sixteenth donation.
Yes, that’s a humblebrag. I feel like the gamification of blood donation is entirely reasonable. Levelling up in blood donation feels like the opposite of frequent flyer points. Instead of a growing sense of shame at how your accumulated activity is destroying the planet, you get increasing affirmation that you’re helping others.
Besides, I don’t have Strava, or Peleton, or rings to close, or whatever. I don’t even do Wordle. So this is the only “streak” I can legitimately boast about.
The more I give blood, the more I enjoy it.
I know that sounds weird. Surely having a needle shoved in your arm isn’t meant to be enjoyable?
It’s true that the first or second time you do it, it can feel intimidating, maybe even a little scary. I’m lucky that I don’t have much of an aversion to needles—much respect to those who do, but donate anyway.
But once you’ve done it a few times, it becomes routine. Actually, it’s more than routine. It’s like a ritual.
Not to get all spiritual here when we’re talking about an entirely biological process, but there is something special going on…
You join together with other members of your community. Strangers. People from all walks of life, all of them gathered in one place to do the same thing: sacrifice a small portion of themselves for the greater good.
It’s like a more egalitarian version of most religious narratives. Instead of a single saviour making a grand sacrifice, you get many individuals partaking in their own mini crucifixations. A little discomfort and that’s it. Multiply that by the number of people gathered together and you’ve got a magnificent network effect. Less dramatic than the hero’s journey, but far more effective.
Usually in our society, if you want to do good, it’s tied to money. You inherit wealth or accumulate it through work and luck, and then you can choose to do good by redistributing some of that moolah. The more you’ve got, the more you can choose to give away. So the amount of potential good that can be done comes down to the whims of the people who have the most money.
Giving blood doesn’t work like that. We’ve all got the same amount of blood.
The memento mori that are scattered through the history of human culture are there to remind us that death is the great leveller. Prince or pauper, we all meet the same end. That also applies to our blood. Prince or pauper, we’re all equal when it comes to blood donation.
That’s one of the reasons I like returning to give blood every few months. It restores my faith in humanity. I look around the room and see all these people that I don’t know, but we’re all there to complete our individual rituals. We all contribute the same amount. It’s a very personal choice, but there’s a communal feeling that comes from being with all these strangers who have made the same choice.
Besides, it’s just a nice opportunity to step away from the day-to-day. Bring a good book to read during the waiting periods before and after donation. During the donation itself, you’ve got this time to think and reflect. It’s quite meditative, opening and closing your hand to help the flow. Almost trance-like.
And then you get free biscuits.
That isn’t quite the end though. A few days later you get a text message telling you where your blood will be used. I love that part. It feels like closing the loop.
It’s funny that we often use the language of blood to describe supply chains: arterial networks carrying goods in and out of hubs; the pumping systems that keep society alive. When that text message arrives, it’s like a little bit of you is part of an infrastructure for helping others.
You can find a donation opportunity near you on the blood.co.uk website.
I have mostly been inside one building for the best part of a year. I have avoided going inside of any other buildings during that time. I have made the occasional foray into shop buildings but rarely and briefly.
Last week I went into another building. But it was probably the safest building to enter. I was there to give blood. Masking and distancing were the order of the day.
I try to give blood whenever I can. Before The Situation, my travelling lifestyle made this difficult. It was tricky to book in advance when I didn’t know if I’d be in the country. And sometimes the destinations I went to prevented me from giving blood on my return.
Well, that’s all changed! For the past year I’ve been able to confidently make blood donation appointments knowing full well that I wasn’t going to be doing any travelling.
On video calls recently, a few people have remarked on how long my hair is now. I realised that in the past year I’ve gone to give blood more often than I’ve been to the hairdresser. Three nill, if you’re keeping score.
But why not do both? A combined haircut and blood donation.
Think about it. In both situations you have to sit in a chair doing nothing for a while.
I realise that the skillsets don’t overlap. Either barbers would need to be trained in the art of finding a vein or health workers would need to be trained in the art of cutting hair while discussing last night’s match and whether you’re going anywhere nice this year.
Anything that encourages more blood donations is good in my books. Perhaps there are other establishments that offer passive sitting activities that could be combined with the donation process.
Nail salons? You could get one hand manicured while donating blood from the other arm.
Libraries and book shops? Why not have a combined book-reading and blood donation? Give a pint and get a signed copy.
Airplanes? You’re stuck in a seat for a few hours anyway. Might as well make it count.
Dentists? Maybe that’s too much multitasking with different parts of the body.
But what about dentistry on airplanes? Specifically the kind of dentistry that requires sedation. The infrastructure is already in place: there are masks above every seat. Shortly after take off, pull the mask towards you and let the nitrous oxide flow. Even without any dentistry, that sounds like a reasonable way to make the hours stuck in an airplane just fly by.
None of us are going to be taking any flights any time soon, but when we do …build back better, I say.
Every year at Clearleft, there’s a week where we step away from client work, go off the grid, and disappear into the countryside to work on something fun. We call it Hack Farm.
Hack Farm usually takes place around November, but due to various complexities, Hack Farm 2014 wound up getting pushed back to the start of 2015. Last week we formed a convoy, stocked up on the bare essentials (food, post-it notes, and booze), and drove west for four hours until we were in Herefordshire at a place called The Colloquy—a return to the site of the first ever Hack Farm.
I kept notes on each day.
We arrive in the late afternoon, settle into our respective rooms, and eat some wonderful home-cooked food. After dinner, even though everyone’s pretty knackered, we agree that it’s best to figure out what everyone will be working on for the next few days.
Everyone gets a chance to pitch their ideas, and then we all do some dot-voting to whittle down the options. In short order, we arrive at four different projects for four different teams.
One of my ideas is chosen. This is something I’ve been pitching every single year at Hack Farm, and every single year it ends up narrowly missing out. This year, it’s finally going to happen!
We choose a room to use as our home base and begin.
We start by agreeing on a hypothesis—more of an assumption, really—that we’ll be basing everything upon:
People are more like to give blood if they are not alone.
We start writing down questions that people might ask related to giving blood. Some of these questions might well turn out to be out of scope for this project, or can already be better answered by an existing service like blood.co.uk e.g.:
Can I give blood?
How often can I give blood?
Will it hurt?
How long will it take?
Other questions are potentially open to us providing answers:
Where can I give blood?
When I can I give blood?
Who else is giving blood?
That last one is a question that doesn’t seem to be answered anywhere else.
We brain-dump potential data sources that answered the “who”, “when”, and “where” questions? The data from blood.co.uk could potentially answer the “when” and “where” questions e.g. when and where is the next donation? Data from Twitter, Facebook, or your address book could answer the “who” questions e.g. who are you, and who are your friends?
We brainstorm potential outputs of the project. The obvious choices are a website or a native app, but there could also potentially be email, SMS, or even posters and postcards.
We think about potential incentives for the users of this service: peer pressure, gamification, bragging rights, reassurance, etc.
So there’s a lot of divergent thinking going on: at this stage, there are no bad ideas (no, really!).
We also establish the goals of the project—what we would like to see happen as a result of this service existing. The very minimum success criteria is:
Someone gives blood who hasn’t given blood before.
There’s a follow-on criteria for measuring longer-term success:
A group gives blood regularly.
We split into two groups to work on a propositional statement, then come together to merge what we came up with. Here it is:
For people who want to give blood, who need encouragement and motivation, Blood Buddies brings together people you know to make it a shared experience. That way, you’re more likely to give blood.
Unlike blood.co.uk, it frames giving blood as a shared, rewarding activity.
Blood Buddies is a codename for now. The final service might have a different name, like Bluddies maybe.
After lunch, we start to work on user stories and personas. After a while, we think we’ve got a pretty clear idea for the minimal viable user journey.
Now we take a little break and stretch our legs.
When we regroup, we start researching technical possibilities (like Twitter authentication, GMail address book, Facebook contacts, etc.), while also throwing ideas around to do with branding, tone of voice, etc. James Box comes in and helps us out with a handy branding exercise.
In an effort the name the thing, we create a page filled with relevant words that might be combined into a name. Eventually we reach the “just fucking end it!” moment. The service is called “Blood Buddies” after all. The tagline is …drumroll… “Get plastered together!”
Meanwhile, having investigated the technical possibilities, it looks like Twitter’s API will be the easiest (relatively) to start with.
We write out our epics and create a little kanban board. We have our tasks figured out:
implement sign-in with Twitter,
create a style guide,
mock up the homepage,
mock up a sign-up form,
Tomorrow everyone can assign a task to themselves and get cracking (some people have started already).
After a late Superbowl night, we arise and begin tackling the day’s tasks.
I managed to get a very rudimentary Twitter sign-in working (eventually!) so now my task is to do something with the data that Twitter is returning …namely, storing it in a database. And because this relies on signing in with Twitter to get any results, this needs to get on to an actual web server as soon as possible.
Cue a day of wrangling with PHP, MySQL, OAuth, Git, Apache, SSH keys, and DNS settings …with an intermittent internet connection that drops out at the most inconvenient of times.
Andy is storyboarding the promo video that will help sell the story of Blood Buddies.
Meanwhile James and Tessa are hammering out a visual language for Blood Buddies. So the work is being approached from two different ends: the server side (how it works behind the scenes) and the interface (how it looks to the end user). In the middle is the user flow, and that’s what Richard is working on, also looking ahead past the minimal viable product to include features that can be added later.
By late afternoon the most basic server-side functionality is done, and the site is live at bloodbuddies.co.uk. Of course, there’s very, very, very little to see there, but at least our team can start adding themselves to the database.
So now the task is to join up the back-end functionality with the visual design and copy. As these strands come together, it feels like we’re getting back to a more collaborative phase: whereas yesterday involved lots of group activity, today was more splintered. But that’s going to change now that we’re going to join up the individual pieces into a unified interface.
Today felt quite productive considering that three out of the five people on our team are on cooking duty.
Today is a day of rest. It’s a beautiful day. We go for a drive through the countryside, pop into a pub for some grub, and go walking on the hills.
We’re down to just three team members today. Tessa is working on a different project and Andy is spending the day sleeping, puking, and generally recovering from a heavy night. N00b.
We get cracking on with integrating the visual design with the back-end functionality. That means bashing out some CSS. After an hour or two, we’ve got something basic in place.
While James works on refining the visuals—including a kick-ass logo—Richard is writing lots and lots of copy, and figuring out user flows.
Meanwhile I’m trying to get server-side stuff in place, fiddling with DNS and email; not my favourite activity.
Once the DNS is pointed to the Digital Ocean server, and with the Twitter sign-in working okay, we realise that we’ve actually launched! Admittedly it’s very basic and it needs plenty of refinement, but it’s a start.
We head out for the evening meal together. Just one more day to go.
James starts the day by finishing up his kick-ass Blood Buddies logo.
Richard is writing and editing lots of witty copy.
Andy is storyboarding a promotional video.
I’m trying to get emails working, so that when someone you know signs up to Blood Buddies, we can email you to let you know. By lunchtime, we’ve got it all working.
Lots of the details are in place now: the logo, web fonts, an error page, a favicon …it feels good to be iterating on a live site.
After lunch, James, Richard, and I work on expanding out the home page. Once everything is in pretty good shape, we all come together (with Andy and Tessa) to talk about what the next steps could be after this minimum viable product.
There’s consensus that the most important step would be adding more ways of signing into the site, instead of just Twitter. Also, there’s a lot of functionality we could add if we can scrape the data from blood.co.uk
But that’s for another day. Right now we’ve got a barebones site, but it’s working.