Much of our courage and support comes from the people we read and talk to and love online, often on the very networks that expose us—and our friends—to genuine enemies of freedom and peace. We have to keep connected, but we don’t have to play on their terms.
Thursday, February 16th, 2017
Friday, January 6th, 2017
As always with sci-fi interfaces, the important part is telling the story, not realism or accuracy. Personally, I liked the way that the World War II trappings of Rogue One extended to communications and networking technologies.
Wednesday, December 28th, 2016
Monday, December 26th, 2016
One might think sending messages to other stars would be a massive, expensive job. No. It isn’t. The Cosmic Call was essentially a crowdfunded hobby project.
Monday, November 21st, 2016
Russell wrote an article for Wired magazine all about PowerPoint, but this extended director’s cut on his own site is the real deal.
Who knew that the creator of PowerPoint was such an enthusiast for the concertina?
Tuesday, August 9th, 2016
I’ve always loved Jeffrey’s writing.
Sunday, August 7th, 2016
The ancestors of the Internet were kind enough to give us a communication standard which is free, transparent, and standardized. It would be a shame to see the tech communication landscape move further and further into the world of locked gardens and proprietary schemas.
Tuesday, June 14th, 2016
From twenty years ago, a look back at the origins of the internet, written by its creators.
Saturday, June 4th, 2016
I really like this list. I might make a similar one for the Clearleft office so what’s implicit is made explicit.
It’s ok to:
- say “I don’t know”
- ask for more clarity
- stay at home when you feel ill
- say you don’t understand
- ask what acronyms stand for
- ask why, and why not
- forget things
Monday, May 30th, 2016
I know exactly how Tim feels. It’s hard not to feel guilty when you’re reading something instead of spending the time doing “real work”, but it always ends up being time well spent:
Reading time can be hard to justify, even to oneself. There is no deadline. It’s not going to move any immediate projects forward (most likely). And it often feels like a waste of time, especially if your interests are diverse. But it’s important. Most great work is the product of collaborative thinking.
Monday, April 25th, 2016
A transatlantic cable, hurrah!
Monday, February 15th, 2016
A delightful and informative booklet from 1928.
Tuesday, December 15th, 2015
Shadows and smoke
Hiring Charlotte was an experiment for Clearleft—could we hire someone in a “junior” position, and then devote enough time and resources to bring them up to a “senior” level? (those quotes are air quotes—I find the practice of labelling people or positions “junior” or “senior” to be laughably reductionist; you might as well try to divide the entire web into “apps” and “sites”).
It breaks my heart to see so many of my colleagues prefix their job titles “senior” (not least because it becomes completely meaningless when every single Visual Designer is also a “Senior Visual Designer”).
I remember being at a conference after-party a few years ago chatting to a very talented front-end developer. She wasn’t happy with where she was working. I advised to get a job somewhere else After all, she lived and worked in San Francisco, where her talents are in high demand. But she was hesitant.
“They’ve promised me that in a few more months, my job title would become ‘Senior Developer’”, she said. “Ah, right,” I said, “and what happens then?” “Well”, she said, “I get to have the word ‘senior’ on my resumé.” That was it. No pay rise. No change in responsibilities. Just a word on a piece of paper.
I had always been suspicious of job titles, but that exchange put me over the edge. Job titles can be downright harmful.
Dan recently wrote about the importance of job titles. I love Dan, but I couldn’t disagree with him more in this instance.
He cite two situations where he believes job titles have value:
Your title tells your colleagues how to interact with you.
No. Talking to your colleagues tells your colleagues how to interact you. Job titles attempt to short-cut that. They do a terrible job of it.
What you need to know are the verbs that your colleagues are adept in: designing, developing, thinking, communicating, facilitating …all of that gets squashed down into one reductionist noun like “Copywriter” or “Designer”.
At Clearleft, we’ve recently started kicking off projects with an exercise called “Fuzzy Edges” that Boxman has been refining. In it, we look ahead to all the upcoming project roles (e.g. “Who will lead playbacks and demos?”, “Who will run stakeholder interviews?”, “Who will lead design direction?”). Together, everyone on the project comes to a consensus on who has which roles.
It’s really, really important to clarify these roles at the start of each project, and it’s exactly the kind of thing that can’t be summed up in a job title. In fact, the existence of job titles can lead to harmful assumptions like “Oh, I figured you were leading playbacks and demos!” or “Oh, I assumed they were running stakeholder interviews!”, or worse: “Hey, you can’t lead design direction because that’s not in your job title!”
The role assignments can vary hugely from project to project, which is great. People are varied and multi-faceted. Trying to force the same people into the same roles over and over again would be demoralising and counter-productive. I fear that’s exactly what job titles do—they reinforce barriers.
Here’s the second reason Dan gives for the value of job titles:
Your title tells your clients how to interact with you.
Again, no. Talking to your clients tells your clients how to interact with you.
Dan illustrates his point by recounting a tale of deception, demonstrating that a well-placed lie about someone’s job title can mollify the kind of people who place great stock in job titles. That’s not solving the real problem. Again, while job titles might appear to be shortcuts to a shared understanding, they’re actually more like façades covering up trapdoors.
In recounting the perceived value of job titles, there’s an assumption that the titles were arrived at fairly. If someone’s job title is “Senior Designer” and someone’s job title is “Junior Designer”, then the senior person must be the better, more experienced designer, right?
But that isn’t always the case. And that’s when job titles go from being silly pointless phrases to being downright damaging, causing real harm.
Over on Rands in Repose, there’s a great post called Titles are Toxic. His experience mirrors mine:
Never in my life have I ever stared at a fancy title and immediately understood the person’s value. It took time. I spent time with those people — we debated, we discussed, we disagreed — and only then did I decide: “This guy… he really knows his stuff. I have much to learn.” In Toxic Title Douchebag World, titles are designed to document the value of an individual sans proof. They are designed to create an unnecessary social hierarchy based on ego.
See? There’s no shortcut for talking to people. Job titles are an attempt to cut out one of the most important aspects of humans working together.
The unspoken agreement was that these titles were necessary to map to a dimwitted external reality where someone would look at a business card and apply an immediate judgement on ability based on title. It’s absurd when you think about it – the fact that I’d hand you a business card that read “VP” and you’d leap to the immediate assumption: “Since his title is VP, he must be important. I should be talking to him”. I understand this is how a lot of the world works, but it’s precisely this type of reasoning that makes titles toxic.
So it’s not even that I think that job titles are bad at what they’re trying to do …I think that what they’re trying to do is bad.
Tuesday, December 1st, 2015
Tuesday, November 10th, 2015
This looks like a terrific presentation from Alla on iconography, semiotics, and communication.
Monday, October 19th, 2015
A fascinating guest post by Brian McConnell on Centauri Dreams: what if there’s a galactic equivalent to the internet, allowing civilisations to communicate with a system analogous to packet switching.
Unfortunately this kind of focussed signalling would be hard to detect. But on the other hand, it could explain the Fermi paradox.
Wednesday, August 12th, 2015
The web – by its very nature – foregrounds the connections between different clusters of knowledge. Links link. One article leads to another. As you make the journey from destination to destination, all inevitably connected by that trail of links, you begin to tease out understanding.
It’s this drawing together, this weaving together of knowledge, that is the important part. Your journey is unique. The chances of another pursuing the same path, link by link (or book by book), is – statistically – impossible. Your journey leads you to discovery and, through reflection, comprehension. You see the connections others haven’t, because your journey is your own.
When you’re struggling to write something that sounds clear and sounds human (two of the essential basics of a good blog post, I’d argue), just use the words normal people would use. The best way to find out what those words are is to try talking the thing through to someone who doesn’t know anything about it. Remember what you just said, then write that.
Saturday, April 11th, 2015
I really like this idea of Jared’s. Finish up a meeting by having everyone write down the answers to these three questions in 60 seconds:
- What was the big idea? (What was the most important thing you heard at the meeting?)
- What was your big surprise? (What was the thing you saw or heard that surprised you the most?)
- What’s your big question? (What’s the biggest unanswered question you have at this time?)
I can certainly relate to these findings:
We find that it’s not unusual to discover that different people in the room had just attended completely different meetings. People are surprised by things that other people take as a matter of course. People take away a different emphasis about what was discussed. People’s fears and concerns are reflected in their outstanding questions.
Wednesday, March 25th, 2015
A look at the risks of relying on a purely graphical icon for interface actions. When in doubt, label it.