At what age does gender bias occur towards computing?

Computer scientists are “friendless, isolated and nerdy”, according to the 13 year-old girls in this Guardian article. But at what age does this gender bias occur? The 8-10 year-olds in my weekly Code Club show no signs of gender bias towards STEM subjects. At this age children seem huge proponents of fairness. The odd time I’ve inadvertently alluded to a gender stereotype, the kids have looked at me blankly.

Without realising it, our perceptions of ‘what people in tech look like’ are generic and outdated; we’re all guilty of it. I recently attended a STEMnet Ambassadors workshop where we were asked to get into groups and draw a web developer. Our group drew a stubbly bro, clad in an ironic t-shirt and cargo pants, hunched over a stickered computer. Despite groups being an equal split of genders, all groups drew a man without giving it a second thought.

So what do coders look like – when you’re 10?

I decided to test this out on a group of Year 5s and gave them five minutes to “draw a coder”. Aside from totally out-classing me on the illustration front, the children drew a mixture of genders. Girls mainly drew girls, boys drew boys and some drew non-gender specific people. Rather than “geek” or “nerd” they wrote positive things like having fun and working together.

what does a coder look like?

what does a coder look like?

It’s intriguing that within a window of 2-3 years girls’ attitudes to computing appear to change so profoundly. Surely stereotypes in films and media are to blame? The evil hacker in his underground lair? The geeky nerd at school who no-one wants to be mates with? In this age of social media scrutiny no-one wants to grow up to become these social misfits or hang out with them. It’s scary how misrepresented the industry is in mainstream media.

As a designer working mainly on startup projects, I am regularly the only lady on the team. It would be nice if this wasn’t the norm when my Code Clubbers join industry. We owe it to the kids to embrace our inner 10 year-old and discourage these stupid stereotypes.

Free places to work in London

I’m taking some time out to attempt to write a sci-fi novel (or die trying). As a massive introvert I was initially very excited by the idea of my own company for long, uninterrupted periods. No clients, no developers, no Slack. I had romantic notions of whiling away the winter in front of the fire; just me, my Macbook and my imaginary labrador.

Turns out that writing alone is actually REALLY FRICKIN’ LONELY. There are only so many places in the house you can work before you hate all of them. So after a couple of months I was forced to change out of my Ugg Boots, make some cheese sandwiches and go forth in search of shared workspace.

Guess what? There are loads of amazing, free spaces to work in London!

I’ve been blown away with how you can just rock up somewhere, use their wifi (or leach the wifi from the Starbucks next door) and feel like part of humanity again. Here are some of my favourites:

V&A National Art Library

V&A National Art Library

This library is pretty and makes you feel like a PROPER WRITER, not just a designer going through a mid-life crisis. It’s open to the public, you just sign in at the front desk and choose a seat token from an impossibly retro board with numbered hooks on it. The downside to this magical space is it’s strict – you have to leave your bag in the cloakroom and they provide a plastic bag for your essentials. You can’t bring in coffee or water; this is not the place to come with a hangover. Wifi is fast and plentiful, plug sockets less so. The desks are wooden, there are sweet little lights that overhang each space and it smells divinely like old books.

Website ↦


Westminster Reference Library

I must have walked past this building hundreds of time without realising it is a library – it’s just off Leicester Square. The main library is full of old folk reading newspapers and smells vaguely like a retirement home. Give this a swerve and head upstairs to the Art and Design Library, a shared workspace for around 15 people. The best thing about this place is it’s totally low-rent; you can drink your coffee, plug in your laptop and no-one bothers you. Every time I’ve been here I’ve got a seat and plowed through some serious wordcount, probably because there is no wifi.

Website ↦


The British Library

British Library

Join the long queue outside at 9:30am and walk briskly up the escalator to nab a space on one of the many banks of desks dotted around this floor. On the first floor, towards the right, there is a Business Centre with several shared desks or if you’re early, space in a booth. The people watching here is brilliant, it’s like being part of a stock image search for ‘business man’. Wifi is free, there are plug sockets on most desks and no-one bats an eyelid if you walk in with coffee and plow through crisps and a sandwich. You also get to tell people “I wrote my novel from The British Library” rather than sprawled on the spare bed wearing a onesie.

Website ↦


Guildhall Library

Guildhall Library

This library is around the back of Guildhall, near Moorgate. The nicest area is upstairs, it’s clean and bright. There are a LOT OF RULES here – no water, plugs are only for laptops, place your bags on the floor, don’t breathe too loudly. If you can get past this, it’s a quiet, functional space where you can get shit done.

Website ↦


Barbican Library

I’ve been in love with the Barbican’s architecture since I first came to London. The lighting and orange-and-brown-70s-vibe crossed with brutal concrete lends a hypnotically peaceful feeling. The main building has reliable wifi and you can usually find a perch in the foyer or balcony areas; outside by the water is also lovely on a hot day. The library is up on the second floor and whilst not the quietest of libraries, it has some atmospheric places to work. In the music library, there are booths from the 1970s that look like something George Jetson might have worked from. Sadly, every time I have been here they have all been full, I guess they fill up early. When I die, I hope I get to go somewhere that looks like The Barbican.

Website ↦

Hey, if you’ve got a recommendation of somewhere free to sit and write, hit me up.


Edit: If you’re happy to spring for a coffee, this Foursquare ‘coffee and power’ map from Crew is super smart:

Reasons To Be Creative Elevator Pitch

I’m not much of a joiner so I surprised myself when I applied to do a Reasons To Elevator Pitch. 20 pitchers speak on a creative topic on the final morning of the Reasons to Be Creative conference in Brighton. Or as organiser extraordinaire John Davey describes it “a festival”. Being by the seaside, combined with 3 days off work does lend itself to a bit of a jolly.

I’ve watched the Elevator Pitch session for the past few years and thought “I should do that”. It’s a bold thought whilst kicking back in your seat, mildly hungover and enjoying the spectacle unfold on stage. So last year I typed up a pitch outline, hit send…then spent the next few hours wondering if I could recall the email. Amazingly John said yes, and as months passed I alternated between feeling excited and considering emigration.

Reasons To Lanyard

I pitched up at the conference to a brilliant free ticket and a room full of similarly fearful looking folk. One of the best parts of the experience was being thrown into the same boat as a load of creatives you don’t know. As a freelancer without a big agency crew to fall back on, my default is to sort of lurk on the periphery. Meeting a really diverse, super talented and interesting bunch meant you always had someone to chat to between sessions, sit on the beach and have a beer with.

I was sort of sad to see that only one other lady had thrown her hat in to do a pitch. We’re constantly assailed with the outcry of “not enough women in tech” but you’ve got to do more than just talk it. Thankfully my female cohort Tammie Lister was a delight and her eschewing the £1 beers in favour of ice cream stopped the experience from being a total bro-fest.

There is a reason they make you rehearse. We totally sucked on our first rehearsal. Under the glare of the lights everyone missed their cue, ran long on time and corpsed it. John sat in the audience with a look of mild horror, clearly calculating whether it was too late to pull the session and draft in some dancing girls.

The day dawned and we nervously gathered outside the stage door. We did a final rehearsal which thankfully came together after the car-crash of the night before. John gave us advice including not to use the C word which was kind of ironic, given that Frank Suyker’s talk was about vaginas.

Reasons To Elevator Pitch - backstage

It’s such a fast-paced session that the pitchers have to sit in a line up backstage; the atmosphere took on a sort of death-row quality. Props to my line-up buddies David Rosser and Mark Robbins who appeared totally chilled! In the final few minutes I did actively consider the repercussions of emptying my water bottle into my MacBook. The real stars are the AV, lighting and sound crew who are totally unflappable and seamlessly hold it all together. Sitting back-stage gives you a real insight into how much effort goes into making an event like this seem so effortless.

Reasons To Elevator Pitch

I was suddenly off, miked up and on stage. What an amazing experience, totally out of my comfort zone but weirdly euphoric. That moment when you come off stage you could take on the world!

You should submit a pitch for next year.

The designer is not here to make it look pretty

I recently turned down a well-paid agency gig. It was for a set of front-end designs for a well-known celebrity website and would probably have looked good in the portfolio. As the designer I was drafted in at the last minute to make it look pretty. Make the logo bigger and get the fonts to pop, that sort of thing.

A few years back I would have jumped on a brief like this but age and experience set alarm bells ringing. Once again, my role in the project was to give Malibu Stacy a new hat.

A new hat for Malibu Stacy

The site structure had been wireframed out by the account exec. There were some notable bumps in the user journey but when I suggested some improvements to the UX I was told it had already been signed off. As had the teeny-tiny light weights of fonts selected, which looked great in print but had terrible on-screen legibility. As the designer, I would undoubtedly be criticised for these poor decisions when the site went live.


Why do you need this design? Who is it for?

To design a successful product I need to know why I am designing it. I need to get to know the client’s business and its pain points. What problem is this design trying to solve? How will this be measured, tested and refined over time? Ultimately, how does this make a difference to the bottom line? Without this, it’s just a pretty picture in Photoshop. As a young and inexperienced designer I was guilty of many of these pictures.

I’ve been offered agency briefs with no mentioned of who the target audience is, “use this site as a template and the same colours as Beyonce’s site”. Someone actually said this to me. User personas are often criticised but I do think it’s important to identify key users and step through the user journey in their shoes. You need something to measure your design decisions against, otherwise it’s just down to your personal preference. Or Beyonces.

Last year, I decided to stop doing agency work because of this lack of direct contact with the client. I’ve worked for some truly lovely agencies over the years but I’ve never once met the client I am designing a website for. I’ve never had any input into the design process, other than producing the pretty pictures at the end. From the agency perspective I am the hired hand, a cog in the workflow, something to tick off the project plan. As a designer it’s a pretty soulless and unfulfilling way to pay the rent. I’ve seen big businesses pay tens of thousands for the privilege of this broken workflow and the end product has often made a little sad.


Let’s fix this broken workflow!

Get everyone involved together at the start of a project for a UX design session. If you’re engaging freelancers on the job, bring them onboard early and include them in briefing sessions. This seems a no-brainer, it will save time explaining it all again later on.

A user journey that has been considered and mapped out on paper, then prototyped and tested on real users will always result in a superior product. I’m not talking fancy usability lab stuff here. Low-fi hand-drawn mockups with post-its overlays are just as effective. Test and refine design work throughout the project, ideally on real users. Take advantage of the designer’s experience. A UI/UX designer is here to solve your problems, not to make it look pretty.

What’s the first rule of Code Club?

No Dad jokes or references to 90s fighting films. Eerie silence descends. Lots of small faces look at you like you’re drunk.

I became a Code Club volunteer after my daughter came home from school and showed me what she had been learning in computer class. She demonstrated how to open up Microsoft Word, how to make the type bigger and how import clip-art pictures of animals. This made me feel a little sad. Aside from some

Word Art in Reflective Chrome - hell yeah!
in bad-ass reflected chrome, there wasn’t a lot to get excited about. Sure, they were learning to use tools but what about learning to make stuff? Where was the fun, the creativity, the collaboration?

This is what convinced me to volunteer for Code Club.
Code Club logo
If you haven’t heard of Code Club, it’s a nationwide network of volunteer-led coding clubs for children aged 9-11. You register on the Code Club website, they connect you with a local school who wants to run a club and give you the resource materials you need to get a club up and running. After meeting with the head teacher and completing the various security checks, you pitch up for an hour a week, run through some fun projects with the kids and hopefully pass on some coding knowledge along the way.


I had two main barriers to entry:

1. I’m not the world’s best coder

I can write HTML and CSS but I’m not exactly spending weekends firing up the BeagleBone Black to test my new Node.js framework. Was I really in the position to teach anyone about coding?

Scratch logoWhile a basic understanding of coding principles will serve you well, you don’t need to be a hugely experienced coder to become a Code Club volunteer. You start off using Scratch – a visual program where you drag-and-drop blocks of code to create your own interactive stories, games and animations. After a couple of hours working through Code Club’s Scratch projects, I felt confident enough to teach it.

Then I started getting excited about Scratch. The results are so immediately gratifying! Press play, turn up your speakers and use the arrow keys to see me me busting some moves with the cat*

* I never get to make things this rad for clients.

2. Children are scary.

Just buy the cookies


I was nervous when I pitched up to the first session. I regularly present to clients but had no idea what to expect from a group of primary school kids. I started off with a few slides about my job, how I learned to code and showed them some of my early efforts at games and websites. I also talked about some of fun jobs and hobbies you can do if you learn to code and showed some creative stuff my mates do for a living.

No one cried. Everyone got excited when I showed a slide of MineCraft. One boy pointed out my surname was spelled wrong (I vowed to take this up with my husband). I ran through the basics of Scratch on the projector and they got to work on the first project.


Me, bad hair, IBM 5155

Me circa 1985. Not much has changed, just less hair and more RAM.


None of the kids had used Scratch before but it seemed to click with them straight away. Some of them ripped through the projects, others approached it slowly, asked lots of questions and it gradually fell into place. I got used to being called “Miss” and realised the kids were actually talking to me and not someone behind me.


My tips for starting out:

* Ask the school to install Scratch on the computers, rather than accessing it online. While the Scratch website is dead exciting, there are too many distractions. Save this for home exploration.

* Insist the children get their code working before they start to experiment. Get them to tick off each step with a pencil. [I can hear you tutting, hear me out on this one]. While I’m keen to encourage creativity, if you let them do their own thing from the get-go it typically results in lots of football backgrounds (boys) and flower drawings (girls) and not a lot of working code. Everyone gets sad and frustrated, Miss has a little cry in the corner.Keep the creative bit for the end of the session as a reward for getting their code working. Then go large modifying it, draw your own characters, add sounds and animations, test all the variables to see how many ways you can break it. It’s brilliant the crazy stuff they come up with and there is a real sense of achievement that the code THEY built works.

* Demonstrate projects by programming a ‘class robot’. Explain the code you’re going to write and ask the children to code the robot to perform the actions. On the surface Scratch is just dragging blocks of code into a scripts area. I’m keen for the children to understand the principles behind what they’re doing, rather than copying the scripts rote.



RoboKid2000 – top tip from Stef.


* Encourage collaboration but don’t force it. I’ve found some of the children work brilliantly with a partner, others want to go it alone. If one of the kids is struggling, get everyone together 10 mins before the end of the session, open their project and work through their problem as a team. Helps reinforce working together and everyone leaves happy.

* Buy cheap ink in bulk for your printer. Scratch is colour-coded and the sheets really do need to be printed in colour. At 5+ pages/each a session, it can become a bit of a printing marathon!


I look forward to my Thursdays down with the kids.

The children are really sweet and enthusiastic and without sounding trite, I’m actually finding it rather rewarding.

A little girl told me that Code Club was “her most favourite lesson of the week” and I nearly did some crying. The children ask for copies of the projects to take home for their siblings and friends and they spend an excitable few minutes telling me about the Scratch projects they are making at home. The best thing is I’m getting them making on the computer. High-fives all round.



While it’s a relief to see positive changes happening to the school computing curriculum, it’s going to take time to roll out and train teachers to implement it. While Code Club offers a sticking plaster solution, it is a timely one and something I’m glad to be part of.

Code Club shirt. Hello World!

You should volunteer too. You. Honestly. If you’ve got any questions hit the Code Club community or drop me a line, I’d be happy to share my experience.

Standing desks: a view from the top

I’ve been toying with the idea of a standing desk for a while and I’ve finally taken the plunge. Why? Because sitting is slowly killing me. Chances are it’s probably killing you too.

As a UI designer I sit all day. I sit at my computer, I sit eating lunch. During downtimes I sit at the kitchen table or on the couch. I offset this by running for 5 hours a week, which when stacked up against the 50+ hours spent sitting seems feebly unbalanced.

I became interested in a standing desk after seeing a photo of this man. Wow. I’ve never seen someone look quite so much like they’ve just jogged up to their desk, done a nifty 250 one-handed press-ups before taking over the world. The health benefits he claimed, like improved concentration and feeling energised, really appealed.

Like most desk workers, I start the day renewed. Good posture, ergonomic setup, hot coffee. The 3pm post-lunch slump finds me slouched, grouchy, surfing the amoeba-like shallows of Twitter for cat gifs. I tried to counteract this lull by setting this time aside for emails and I found the most productive way to do this was standing up at the kitchen counter on my iPad. Perhaps there was something to be gained from standing?

Reluctant to splash cash on more freelance whimsy, I Googled for solutions. This article claimed a standing desk could be achieved with $22 parts from IKEA. I even went as far as going to IKEA and staring aimlessly at the little white packets of fittings. I admitted defeat; unless I shacked up with a builder, a DIY solution was clearly not going to materialise.

You can easily drop a grand on a standing desk. Some even go up and down electronically. I liked the idea of keeping my original desk and chair though, and still being able to sit on days when I was hungover or huffy. I toyed with this Kangaroo height adjuster but baulked at the price.

I eventually went for a Varidesk Pro and I’m really pleased with it. It accommodates a 27 inch monitor and super easy to operate – you click two handles at the sides to ease it up and down. The downside is looks – it’s been seriously hit with the ugly stick. If you are running a design studio where aesthetics matter, then this isn’t the kit for you. It’s also *incredibly* heavy, to the point it took two skinny developers several minutes to heave it onto my desk. At a cost of £300 however, it seemed like a good compromise.



Varidesk Pro: not exactly Kate Moss but easy to operate and keenly priced.


I read lots of blog posts saying you had to ease yourself into standing but I stood for around 5hrs/day from day 1. I’ve experimented with shoes and found barefoot running shoes suit me best. My desk sits on carpet so I haven’t had the need for padding or a mat.

Now 7 months in I can’t see myself going back to sitting. The crippling neck and shoulder pain I suffer from has evaporated. I move around a lot more and if I’m stuck on a design problem then it’s easy to just walk away for a quick break. This BBC article also claims that standing for 4 hours a day is the “equivalent of running about 10 marathons a year” in spent calories.

Just think, I might look like this next year:

Treadmill desk

Why are TV remotes so badly designed?

I giggled at this photo of the ‘parent remote’ on Twitter. My gut reaction was to laugh at the older generation who are unable to cope with all the buttons. Luddites! Second was to stop and think. Why are all those buttons there in the first place if you can operate the remote without them?

parent remote
I’m a UI designer for the web and usability plays a big part in my life. I’m intrigued at how we, as consumers, just accept broken design. We have this awesome technology with amazing back-end capability, yet often so little thought is given to the user journey and how we interact with an object, device or screen.


The parent remote

Remote controls are a classic example of broken design. It’s like someone laid down a template back in the 1980s and everyone keeps reiterating the same layout, just adding more buttons.

Just look at this Zenith remote circa 1950s. Imagine how your hand would grasp this little lovely and how intuitively your muscle memory would remember where to press. There is something satisfying about depressing a physical button, hearing a click.

Zenith remote circa 1950s

Compare this to today’s television remotes. The Virgin Media TiVo remote that operates my cable TV has a bewildering array of functions. I use this remote almost daily, yet there are 13 buttons I have never pressed. The remote came with its own guidebook, in my opinion completely unnecessary if the product is designed intuitively in the first place.

Cable TV remotes

I can see how we’ve got here. Televisions today offer so much more functionality. But rather than just cramming more buttons onto the 1950s remote, should we not take a step back and look for a better way? Is a small, plastic clicker really the most intuitive means of input for the modern television?


The user-friendly ATM

UK cash machines have remained largely unchanged since they appeared on the high street in 1967. The user journey that my local ATM takes you on is comical. If you press ‘CASH ONLY’ it then asks if you want an account balance, then if you want a receipt. I want CASH ONLY. It’s little wonder my granny is still scared of ATMs.


Given that you are putting a card into the machine and entering a pin, surely the machine could respond in a friendly and reassuring “Hello Geri” sort of way. A clever machine would customise the user experience based on your previous transactions. I’m a cash and dash sort of person and I nearly always withdraw the same amount. How about remembering this amount and offering it as a one-click choice on the first screen? My gran needs some hand holding and her eyesight is not so good. Big type and ongoing reassurance would really help her out. It’s interesting how we just accept the current design as the way an ATM operates.


Parking meters need change (sorry)

Another example of a broken design I rage at on a daily basis is parking meters. The machines on my high street have a digital display and offer up useful error messages such as “subsequent insertion of a coin is a contravention!”. Help! I’m contravening!

I read an interesting study (PDF) by UX Alliance who compared interfaces of cash machines around the world:

Parking meters
Given the state of some of them, I almost feel that we’re getting off lightly here in the UK. Again, the main problem is the broken user flow:

I want a ticket! What do I do first > then what do I do next
(bear in mind I don’t have 20 minutes to read the guide).

Even for a non-designer it’s not really all that challenging. It’s a pretty straightforward proposition to work through, I wonder how it’s possible to get it so wrong?


Time to stick it to the man?

I do believe it’s time for us consumers to demand better. In most cases the technology is available and it comes down to cost. It’s cheaper to keep selling us the old broken version. Personally, I would pay more for something that worked intuitively (and I’d tell my friends about it). Perhaps next time you’re looking to buy a new telly or change banks you might just favour the one who provides you with a more thoughtful design and user experience.

Web designers are people too

This week a client sent me a brief for a new project. To demonstrate the concept, he had Photoshopped my photograph into the mockups. My own face staring back at me was strangely beguiling. The document neatly specced out of job and ended with “thank you for your time Geri”.

I was stunned. This simple, low-fi personalisation probably took less than 5 minutes yet was heartfelt and engaging. This person really cared about what I thought, clearly had a sense of humour and was enthusiastic about their product. This is the sort of the client I love to work with, let’s create something great together!

While I’m not saying everyone needs to get handy with the lasso tool, I can’t help but despair at many of the new project requests I receive. They typically look like this:

Don't be a dick

As a provider of a creative service the most important thing for me is to get on with my clients. If we share a similar vision, ethos and values I find the project runs smoothly, the end product fits and brief and everyone gets happy.

If you’re excited about a new product or service, then tell me about it! What are your goals, who is the target market, why is it different, what are your brand values, what makes your customers love it? If timelines and budgets are pushed then I might be able to help get things back on track but only if I know you’re taking the time to get it right. Surely your new venture is worth more than a quick hack?

Remember, web designers are people too. I might be selling you a service but on the flip-side you’re selling yourself as a client. Would you walk into a car dealer and shout “HOW MUCH DOES A CAR COST?”, then moan about how you don’t have enough money for the Maserati but they should give it to you anyway because your last car let you down?

The quest for authenticity


Cool hunting is a waste of time, MTV and Twitter put pay to that. For the middle classes the quest for authenticity has become the new way to lord it over the neighbours.

Hey Jones’s — no-one cares about your new car” (unless it’s a low-emission-eco-hybrid that runs on biofuel derived from your own compost).

Joking aside, everywhere I look I’m seeing folk with a yearning for a simpler, more honest way of life. They want to know the provenance of the goods they buy and how ethically they were made. They want to know if its transportation was eco-friendly.They want their bicycle hand-crafted by a man in a shed.

But is what we’re getting really authentic? Or just the same stuff packaged up retro-style and marketed to a generation who have never known financial hardship, yet are in love with faux austerity? I’ve recently been mulling this over and I’m beginning to wonder if we’re being honest with ourselves, getting the real deal.

Things wot my Nan did to get by

I’ve noticed my London peers are increasingly engaging in activities and hobbies traditionally seen as necessities to previous generations. Keeping chickens, making and mending, knitting, growing your own food in an allotment. My store-bought salad is regularly outclassed by the neighbour who rocks up with hand-reared micro herbs and charcuterie.

My Nan did these chores out of need; a hand-knitted jumper was cheaper than a bought one, you mended things because you either couldn’t afford a new one or there wasn’t one available.

Now everyone can afford store-bought goods, they’ve lost their cachet. We’ve come full circle and we want to make things ourselves. Get our hands dirty.

Well sort of.

We want to make things whilst wearing a stay-pressed hemp apron, using box-fresh, virgin tools from vintage packaging whilst our friends post photos of us on Instagram. Nan 2.0, only without the oldness or the hassly bits.

Is the cappuccino more authentic if the store is independently owned?

A hip looking coffee shop recently opened near me; reclaimed brick walls, brightly painted mismatched chairs, menu lovingly scrawled on chalkboards behind the counter by a cardigan-clad skinny chick. Located directly next to a Starbucks and a couple of doors along from Costa, it shone as a beacon of cafe authenticity amongst the evil corporates infiltrating our high streets.

I found out it’s all just a trick. Harris & Hoole, despite being a dead ringer for an independent local business is a fraud, owned 49% by the UK’s biggest retailer Tesco. Tesco have opened 18 Harris & Hoole stores in the south east of England since launching, generating annual sales of £5m.

Yes, the coffee tasted nice and the cakes offered organic, gluten-free goodness but the experience left a bitter taste. I felt duped. The perceived value of authenticity is clearly not to be sniffed at.

Ye olde pop-up shoppe

It’s pleasing to see recent trends showing consumers abandoning the giant hypermarket in favour of their local high street. The provenance of our food is more important than ever and we’re keen to verify that the chicken on our plate had a happy life.

Break free Great Britain from the tyranny of the Ginster’s Pasty!

If we’re keeping it real however, I think we need to appreciate how fortunate we are today and stop romanticising the past. I regularly wander London’s Spitalfields Market and am lured in by the vintage shops with gold facades selling Mother’s Ruin Gin and tins of Campbells Tea. Verde & Co at Spitalfields with its hanging baskets. ‘Village shop in the City’ A Gold who sell old fashioned sweets, handmade biscuits in hessian bags and my favourite ‘Camp Coffee’, the chicory alternative used in the war when coffee was rationed.

French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre was quoted as saying “If you seek authenticity for authenticity’s sake, you are no longer authentic.”
I can’t help feeling that this is the case. Imagine how much mornings’ sucked without coffee. I doubt the folk buying Camp Coffee during the 1940s did so with a tin of Illy sitting in their pantry and Ocado on speed dial. What are we really buying here, other than a nicely packaged view of a sanitised past that never really existed?

Manor House Grey

Like many Londoners, I live in a Victorian terrace. We bought it as a student hovel that had been raped of all original fittings and set to work recreating our noughties version of an authentic Victorian house.

I spent weeks combing wreckers yards for authentic stairclips and even took a moulding of the cornicing so the builders could recreate the authentic ceiling. We agonised over Victorian Farrow and Ball paint colours. To this day I can run past a house and tell you if they’ve used Mole’s Breath or Smoked Trout in their hallway.

During the course of my research I came by an account from a scullery maid who worked in a house in our terrace. Our open plan kitchen extension was traditionally a scullery. It had a stone floor, was unheated in winter apart from the coal range that made the room unbearably smoky. Unlike us, they clearly did not benefit from underfloor heating and a German-precision downdraft extractor.

As much as I like to kid myself, my home is about as authentically Victorian as my iPhone.

Keeping it real

I’m glad we’re making steps towards a more authentic life, one that is more morally and socially beneficial. We are finally asking where our trainers came from, who made them and under what conditions. How many miles our food has travelled to reach us. The true human cost of that £1 Primark t shirt.

We’re starting to appreciate the value of craft over mass production and see value in handmade. It’s a joy to finally cut through the crap.

But I can’t help feeling like we are viewing life through the retro filters of a smartphone app. We need to demand authenticity from ourselves as well as the things we consume. Only then will we be truly keeping it real.


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Poe’s Law casts a long dark shadow

Wow – I am REALLY excited about this project!”

. . . said the final line of the client’s email. The website was for a dermatologist’s practice who had opted for cheesy stock photos of smiling automatons.

I was young and doing it for the cash. She was a medical secretary with what I perceived as the unenviable job of getting together a desperately unexciting website. Was she serious? Or having a giggle with me at our shared predicament?

Clear communication over the web is tough. How often do you read an email or blog comment and wonder if the author’s sentiments are genuine? In my early days of freelancing I once added what I perceived to be an amusingly sarcastic comment to a client email which received a hurt and bewildered reply. My British sense of humour is not always appreciated and something I try to keep in check.

I came by an internet adage called Poe’s Law. Coined in 2005 by Nathan Poe, Poe’s Law states that without a “winking smiley or other blatant display of humour”, it is impossible to determine that someone won’t mistake the parody for the genuine article. The axiom was originally applied to fundamentalism and activism but over time has been associated with comments made online in jest but perceived as the real deal.

The sentiment stems from a comment made by Jerry Schwarz on Usenet, way back in 1983:

“If you submit a satiric item without this (smiley) symbol, no matter how obvious the satire is to you, do not be surprised if people take it seriously.”

There have been some fairly infamous incidents over the years, the most memorable for me being the satirical piece by The Onion claiming ‘Harry Potter Sparks Rise In Satanism Among Children’. The article was cited across the media and caused letters of outrage to the Readers Digest. I found a long list of similar scenarios in this post.

The emergence of the long shadow design ‘trend’ of the past few weeks is what has prompted my thoughts. Originating from a tongue-in-cheek blog post, the trend was picked up across the web and purported to be the next big thing. Its merits caused heated discussions on design forums and a series of long shadow iOS7 redesigns and icon sets. For me it came full circle when Designmodo illustrated their piece with this example:
Long shadow design

For the record the medical secretary really was genuinely excited about the website. It’s always wise to err on the side of caution, you never know who’s listening : )

The internet is rewiring my brain

Recently, I’ve been distracted. I’m working on a design, then suddenly realise I’ve spent ten minutes reading a website about cheese that I Googled after laughing at a goat meme on Tumblr, linked from Facebook, accessed via a link from Twitter that someone has emailed me. This distraction is a recent phenomenon and it’s starting to scare me. I’m beginning to worry that long term exposure to the internet is reducing my ability to concentrate. The internet is rewiring my brain.


I never used to be like this

Up until about a year ago I was a dedicated, freelance designer. I would regularly pull eight-hour stints at my computer, surfacing occasionally to upload a sandwich or flick through a book for inspiration. I would shut the door at the end of the day, switch my phone to voicemail and pick up again the following morning.

Work hasn’t changed – it’s still just as creative, challenging and rewarding. What has changed is that I never let go. When I leave my desk I reach for my phone. I spend the evening on the iPad. I go to bed reading tweets and wake up reading emails. This constant exposure to electronic stimuli seems to be taking its toll on my brain. Somewhere along the line I have swapped deep thought for flimsy distractions. I exist inside the Twitter feed of a needy teenager.


It’s not just me

I got scared so I started to read. I came by this book by Nicholas Carr ‘The Shallows: How the Internet is Changing the Way We Think, Read and Remember’. Carr believes that constant exposure to fast data streams is changing the way our brains are wired. His theories resonated with me.

Human intelligence relies on our ability to transfer information from our short term or ‘working’ memory to long term memory – our brain’s filing system. When information and experiences enter our long term memory, we are capable of complex ideas and thoughts. Our mind draws on other memories to build connections and it’s this deep thinking that leads to true creativity.

The problem is, working memory can only hold a small amount of information at a time. With the distraction of a tweet or an email the thought is lost and never makes it to the filing system. In the blink of a LOL Cat that brilliant idea is forgotten.


See what I did there. I bet you can’t even remember what you are reading about. Was it something about cheese? Goats?


See what I did there. I bet you can’t even remember what you are reading about. Was it something about cheese? Goats?

Carr also believes that the internet overwhelms the brain, which can have detrimental effects to long-term memory. The immediacy and full-on nature of the web leads to cognitive overload which makes it difficult to remember anything.

Wired magazine presented similar views in its June 2010 issue:

“When we go online, we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning. Even as the Internet grants us easy access to vast amounts of information, it is turning us into shallower thinkers, literally changing the structure of our brain.”

The Wired article states that there is nothing inherently wrong with quickly skimming the headlines – we’ve been reading newspapers and magazines this way for years. The problem occurs when skimming becomes our dominant mode. The plasticity of our brains means we quickly set this as the default; our capacity to absorb and retain what we read is reduced.

This is me. I am a serial skimmer. An amoeba, adrift in the shallows of initial blurbs, pull quotes and bullet points.

Sorry to interrupt

Aside from client meetings and the odd collaboration, I tend to work alone. Just me, my mac, my books, my delusions of being a grown up. The sad truth is that I like being interrupted because each interruption brings me information from the outside world.

I feel connected. I am delighted by the Instagram of your lunch. I am entertained by the email flaming your boss. I crave the immediacy of knowing, despite the shallow and fleeting superficiality.

Pulling the ripcord

I was inspired by this account from Paul Miller, detailing his year without the internet. Miller lost weight, read Greek plays, travelled and went on bike rides. Hell, the man even cried during Les Mis. I felt desperately jealous. To be honest, mainly of his age (26) and the circumstances which allowed him the luxury of giving up the net.

For me, giving up the internet just isn’t an option. I am a web designer. I have a mortgage. I have two children addicted to Minecraft. The music in our house is powered by the internet. Without online shopping my family would starve, or at least go without Babybels. Is there any hope for my hippocampus?

Joined up thinking

This short foray into my mind has been a wakeup call. It’s time to change the way I use the internet. Set aside specific times for reading and replying to emails. Turn off the Twitter widget that shows new interactions. Stop checking my phone. No one will notice if I take an extra half hour to reply to a message or a tweet but with luck my brain might thank me in the long term.

I need to nourish my brain’s filing system with good quality, well connected thoughts. Farewell to the superficial, fast food of short term pleasures!

It’s time to close up the iPad for the evening and get out the Twister.

The flat design trend – where to from here?

I’ve always subscribed to the Swiss style of less is more, so wholeheartily embracing this era of flat interface design. Given the design excesses of the past decade, it’s interesting to see how we’ve come full circle to reach this point. But I can’t help wondering – where to from here?

When I started designing websites back in the year 2000, all the world was flat. This was more by technological limitations than by choice, or possibly because we hadn’t considered there was any other way. Web 2.0 exploded in 2004, giving rise to a ‘richer’ user experience of gradients, rounded corners and 3D buttons. I spent the Web 2.0 years working in-house for investment banks, designing financial services websites. That’s a whole lot of beveled edges and drop shadows!

From here a host of web design trends emerged, first embraced, then vilified by the design community. Skeuomorphic ornamentation like hand stitched edges, forked ribbons and leather-effect binders had arrived! Designers argued that they were bringing realism to the web by introducing ‘visual metaphors’ or elements from everyday life, thus making interfaces more engaging and intuitive.

It always surprised me how wholeheartedly Apple embraced skeuomorphism, given their clean and minimal design ethic. iBook’s faux wood bookshelf and iCal’s moleskin ‘hand-stitched’ leather binder, while initially enchanting now seem terribly passe. This month, Apple profits fell for the first time in a decade and many commentators see their failure to evolve as their downfall. It suddenly seems as if Apple have lost a bite of their cool.

Flat design is quickly being adopted by market leaders. Facebook and eBay have introduced flatter versions of their logo and icons. Microsoft, traditionally the uncool laggard of the biggies, struck a winning blow with the flat interface of Windows 8. Rumour has it that Apple are now embracing the flatlands with iOS 7.

There is something about this design ethic that feels honest. Giving users what they want without the additional noise somehow seems kinder, more straight up.

Layervault, an early champion of flat design have gone as far as calling this “The Honest Design Age”. This sentiment is echoed by many across the web.

These changes aren’t all about fashion. The increase in web browsing on smartphones and tablets is forcing designs to adapt for responsive scalability on the small screen. Clear, crisp typography is also evident as part of the flat design trend with fonts like Open Sans and Promixa Nova leading the way with carefully crafted glyphs. It’s interesting to see the trend in mobile usage from my own site stats – up 18% in the last year.

I can’t help wondering where do we go from here? When everyone jumps on the flat design bandwagon will it suddenly look bland and outdated? Will my skills in creating a hand-sewn leather border ever be back in demand? It’s harder to stand apart from the crowd in a flat world.

Like the Mighty Boosh, I can’t help feel we designers have taken retro to its logical conclusion.


Update: November 2013
Back in April I posted this article on and it’s had over 6K reads. Flat design is clearly a popular topic!

Branded interactions: Hey, I own that gesture!

I’ve been working on an app that has an innovative navigation. It got me thinking about how certain apps are defined by user interaction. When the interaction is unique to the product, it becomes part of the user experience and ultimately part of the brand. These “branded interactions” are fast becoming a valuable commodity.

Can a user interaction really form part of a brand?

There are countless interfaces which require the same methods of user input. We tap, we swipe, we type on tiny keyboards whilst walking, we occasionally fall over.

The memorable interfaces are not only intuitive to use but those which engage us on an emotional level. Interaction typically involves one or two simple actions, used repeatedly.

In Designing for Emotion, Aarron Walter suggests the most engaging interfaces “surprise and delight” the user. A product that is not only useful but a joy to use builds positive perceptions of the brand to create lasting brand loyalty.

What if an interface could help you complete a critical task and put a smile on your face? That would be an experience you’d recommend to a friend; that would be an idea worth spreading.” — Aarron Walter

The app that defines this for me is Clear, the colour-pop ‘to do’ list. I found Clear’s interaction intuitive from the outset; pull down to add an item, pinch to insert a task and left swipe to ‘clear’ or delete a completed task from your list. Few actions used repeatedly. ‘Clearing’ the list is the user’s objective, which packages up the brand beautifully:

clear Clear: image from iTunes store

Another is Rise, the super-simple, user-friendly alarm app which has revolutionised my mornings. Drag your thumb up or down to select your rising time, the screen colour changing to reflect day and night. Swipe right to turn on and off. The colours, font and user interaction all add up to a defining brand experience:

rise Rise: image from iTunes store

So if a user interaction is unique to your product, can you claim legal ownership?

If you own an Apple device you unconsciously ‘slide to unlock’ countless times a day; it’s an easy and effective interaction. Apple owns a design patent on the “ornamental” design of the lock screen, so while they haven’t exactly patented the gesture itself, they have copyright over the design that forces you to make the gesture. This is possibly why the unlock screens on Android phones won’t allow you to pick an unlock gesture of one single slide, left to right across the screen.

Another interaction we immediately associate with Apple is ‘pinch to zoom’. Apple did have a patent on pinch to zoom but this was recently overturned following their billion dollar lawsuit against rival Samsung.

There has been a lot of chatter about Twitter’s patent application for the ‘pull-down-to-refresh’ function. Pull down to refresh has got to be the most intuitive way of refreshing content on a mobile device; it’s used by Gmail, iOS and countless others. Twitter claim they acquired the right to pull down to refresh when they bought iPhone client Tweetie back in 2010. There is still no decision on this patent, though legal commentators say the ruling is likely to be in Twitters’ favour.

When you start searching for patents you sure come by some random ones

Microsoft owns a patent on “gesture profiles” that users create when using Kinect. The user creates a custom profile shape (say an enchanted unicorn, mid prance) to open their favourite game. Microsoft OWNS THAT MOVE and they could potentially prevent other companies from allowing you to create a similar “gesture profile” for a competitors’ product. Microsoft also owns a patent for “flicking your pen” at something. The jury’s out on that one.

A serious consideration for designers

Granting legal ownership to user interactions is a serious business and sets a real precedent for future design and development. As an interface designer, it also makes me a little nervous. Should we be paying heed of these patents (like pull-down-to-refresh) — or are they just for the big fish?

In such a crowded market a unique and memorable interaction can really set you apart from the competition. It’s clearly a key area for consideration when designing the mobile user experience.

The psychology of colour

Lego football player

…or how website colour schemes are influenced by football strips

I keep being asked to base websites on football team colours. This month I have designed an interface for a trade union website (“make it red like Liverpool FC”) and for a learning charity (“make it blue and yellow, like Leeds”).

I mentioned this to a group of web designers at a conference I attended this week and the response was loud. There wasn’t a single designer who hadn’t been asked to base a site scheme on an unrelated football strip.

It got me thinking about the psychology of colour. Colour associations develop so stealthily that most of us don’t realise why we associate a particular colour with an emotion, a product, the winning team or the losing side. So if you’re designing a brand or identity from scratch how do decide on a colour scheme? Should this be a considered, scientific choice or just a personal preference?

Can it be my/my bosses/the chairmans favourite colour?

My kids are big on this. My favourite colour is grey. Grey is calm and makes secondary colours like yellow and pink really pop. That said, it probably doesn’t score me highly on the Jung/Myers Briggs personality test.

Can it be blue?

The standard corporate fallback is blue. Blue is widely regarded as a safe colour, traditional and dependable. In the UK, blue is the healthcare colour: the NHS logo is blue and nurses uniforms are often blue. We trust in blue. On the flipslide, can you think of a TRUELY AWESOME website that is blue?

Can it be really fashionable, like Henry Holland?

Trends in colour go across design media. Yellow on the catwalk turns up as yellow in cushions and curtains in the portfolios of interior designers. This filters through to web and graphic design. If you’re on the cutting edge and have a budget to regularly update your site’s skin, don your skull-print leggings and rock it like a flatlander. If you’re in for the long haul, then perhaps a more measured scheme is needed.

Can anyone be offended by this?

Colours have different meanings in different cultures. For example, in the East white is the color of funerals while in the West white is the color of weddings. Check out the colour chart of cultural symbolism.

Has anyone actually thought of asking the customers?

If you’re unsure, the best people to ask are the end users. Do they all actually support Aston Villa? Your winning colours might be claret and blue but it might not be a good fit with your audience. Test out 2-3 colour variations with your target market. This doesn’t have to be a formal process, it can be done on your iPhone in the pub. A quick, gut reaction from the right demographic will tell you if you’re heading in the right direction.

Not very Flash

Thoughts on my first website*

I built my first website in the year 2000. It was built in Flash, naturally. I had tried building a site in HTML, painstakingly flipping between Dreamweaver’s WYSIWYG view and my copy of Netscape 4. There appeared to be little correlation between the two. It was so hard! This HTML stuff would never catch on.

In Flash you effectively drew yourself a website. At last, I was webdesigner! I set about crafting an awesome portfolio site that would undoubtedly showcase my work for the rest of my career.

The website was blue and the font was Arial, inexplicably all in lower case. Like most Flash sites of the period it eschewed all usability standards, contained no hard text and opened in a pop-up window. One in the eye for you Jakob Nielsen, with your yellow site for boring people! The piece de resistance was the opening animation that took 3 minutes to load and equally long to enjoy. This featured a series of flying screen grabs of my degree projects set to a repeating loop from a dance track.

There was an innovative take on navigation, an attempt at a 3D dice (perhaps inviting potential clients to take a chance on me?). A moving arrow pointed out the navigation, in case anyone hadn’t clocked quite how dreadful it was.

Really terrible Flash website Cutting edge animation! Very proud at the time, not really rocking the party today

In this shiny new world of HTML5, it’s hard not to feel a little sad and nostalgic about Flash. At the time it felt so exciting and full of possibility.

Flash started its life as an animation package and joined the web in 1996. The technology was adopted by market leaders like MSN and Disney, it grew in popularity and spawned a derth of interactive web pages and games. It was bought by software giant Adobe in 2005. I remember this as the year I started designing all Web 2.0, we got a broadband connection and web video suddenly exploded. YouTube appeared, making it possible to upload and share video online and Flash became integral for enabling multimedia across the web.

It was getting all very exciting for Flash. Then in 2007, Apple released the iPhone.

The story goes that Adobe was in talks with Apple to make Flash work on the iPhone but it just didn’t cut it on a mobile processor. YouTube made the decision to offer up access to its videos in a format optimised for mobile phones, bypassing the need for Flash. The final nail in the coffin was Steve Job’s famous memo, Thoughts On Flash which denounced Flash, highlighting its many failings.

* The reason I’m getting all nostalgic about Flash is because of an email from 123-reg, inviting web designers to take part in a shared reminise about My 1st Website. And they’ve got a rather tasty MacBook Pro up for grabs…(not that I’m cheap date on the tech front).

I’m glad something’s prompted a rummage through my year 2000 CD archive – it’s nice to be reminded of how far I’ve come since my shabby beginnings at age 23. These days I would start by downloading a free HTML boilerplate and hit the ground running. Back then it was all so new, exciting and painfully homemade. Creating something in your bedroom that was suddenly visible to everyone online seemed like a revelation, your own small place on a world stage.

Keyframe animation did make me feel pretty flash. I hope the kids out there today get as excited about building their first site, despite never knowing the joy of a shape tween.

Keeping it real

Keep it real

I regularly sift Designspiration and Behance and every so often something slaps me around the chops with originality. Interestingly though, most clients I meet don’t want a website that’s original. They want a site that looks like someone elses.

When you see a site up and running, live and beautifully crafted it’s difficult to see past it. You’re probably admiring the site because it’s doing a great job of promoting the product or organisation it’s been designed for. But will this site provide such a good fit with your product or your brand?

Design is such a subjective thing and it’s hard not to bring your personal preferences to the table. One charity project I worked on was hindered by a director who insisted the homepage looked like his bank ‘First Direct’, which is like…errrr…a bank. I regularly receive feedback like “make it blue like Chelsea FC” because this is the football team that the client supports. It’s tough to explain that this isn’t what their 18-24 hipster demographic will engage with.

When designing from scratch, I think you need to cast your net wider than the web for inspiration. Good design is the result of great thinking. Getting away from the screen is vital. Books, films, signage, exhibitions, street art, it’s amazing what gets me excited. Modern design tools like Photoshop certainly make life easier but they do little to improve creativity.

I recently read an interesting article by Jessica Hische titled Inspiration vs Imitation. Some great tips in diversifying your inspiration and the joy of designing from scratch:

“If you copy someone else, you’re depriving yourself of the amazing feeling of creation, of making something that is yours and yours alone. You’ll undoubtedly love and care for the baby you’ve created more than the baby you stole from the grocery store.”

What an awesome quote. It’s time to step away from the computer.


The first time I saw a toaster was in the early 2000s. I had a shitty job at a small advertising agency and was hungover about 98% of the time. The toaster was painted on the inside of a window between Old Street and Moorgate and it used to cheer me up on the way to work. The building looked sort of official and I always wondered how someone had managed to paint it there.

Toaster on the window

Over the years the toasters seemed to follow me around London. Stickers on tubes, lamp posts, escalator risers. The triptych on the 141 bus route on New North Road. The bright orange flash of toaster along Hackney Road. The flying toasters across the Four Vinters at the top of Kingsland Road that got badly painted over to form an ever changing canvas of Rothko-esk weirdness.

I haven’t seen a new toaster for ages, just the ghosts left behind by stickers and paint overs. I thought perhaps the toaster crew had got older and were now pretending to be grownups, like me. Then yesterday I was running the Parkland Walk and HELLO! This spanky new toaster sprayed under the railway arches. Like meeting an old friend, it made my day.

Toaster on the Parkland Walk

Losing the will to input…the basics of good form design

I’ve been working on a site design that incorporates a lot of web forms this week and surfing the web for inspiration. It’s made me realise how much time and effort designers put into bringing users to sign-up and contact forms, only to present a poorly crafted form. Here are some of my form musings:

Break it into manageable chunks

There is nothing more off-putting than a long form that scrolls endlessly off the screen. Breaking the form into small, manageable chunks or stages make the form appear more manageable and less of a chore for the user. The checkout process on Game is a great example of this:

Good form design

Use live inline validation

This is where each form field is validated separately as the user types. The error handling is instant, with the user being told that their data doesn’t match the expected format. I gleaned a lot from this excellent article by Luke Wroblewski.

Form design
Twitter have really nailed live validation feedback on their signup form.

Add personality

Adding a bit of brand sparkle can lift a form from a mundane chore into something personable and dare I say ‘fun’. People enjoy relating to people and a small dose of friendliness and personality can make the input process a bit more enjoyable and human.

Form design
I love the hand drawn signup form on Christian Sparrow’s site

Offer multiple choice where possible

Choosing items from a list is easier than filling in a blank field with text. My user testing experience has shown that users are often confused when filling in blanks, especially if the labelling is not clear.

Form design

do this brilliantly with their contact form – you can select from set options rather than filling in blanks

A well-designed form that gives the user feedback can make the difference between a successful conversation and a drop-off failure. As Shawn Borsky says on Smashing Magazine:

We spend so much time getting people to the door that we forget to make the door as inviting and useful as the path to it.

Does my skeuomorphism look realistic in this?

I was in a meeting the other day when a client started fuming about Apple’s overuse of skeuomorphism. I nodded sagely and stroked my imaginary tecchies beard, hoping I would not be called upon for an opinion.

Skeuomorphism? A hasty and covert Google revealed:

A skeuomorph /ˈskjuːəmɔrf/ [skyoo-uh-mawrf], or skeuomorphism, is a design element of a product that imitates design elements that were functionally necessary in the original product design, but which have become ornamental in the new design. 



…basically it’s a way of making new things appear comfy and familiar.

I often embed elements and textures from offline life into my interface design. An imperceptibly light shading can make an element appear more credible, or dare I say…realistic? So skeuomorphism is something I do every day just without the fancy title. Phew.

This thought process did get me thinking about the way I design website interfaces though. By adding a ‘real world’ texture or skin over an on-screen interface am I really making it more realistic? Or just adding an unnecessary layer of entirely superficial complexity?

I came by a blog post entitled The Flat Design Era written by Allan Grinshtein. Grinshtein encourages designers to strip back all unnecessary layers and risk creating entirely flat interfaces. He links out a number of fellow ‘flatlanders’ who have embraced a completely flat layout.

I was quite excited by this idea until I looked through the featured sites. They were all very clean and contemporary but none of the layouts got me particularly excited or convinced me to banish drop shadows forever.

Putting my personal preferences aside, surely this is just a question of usability.

If a slight drop shadow brings a button forward and makes it obvious to the user that it is a button then this is good design. If bringing a ‘real world’, familiar shape to an icon makes the user instantly recognise what it does and engage with it then this is good design.

Spending a week recreating the hand-stitched moleskin leather of Apple’s calendar is not a great use of design time.

I need to start ranting about this in meetings.


I’m not much of a joiner so I almost surprised myself when I bought a ticket to Mumsnet Blogfest. I added a blog to my site a couple of years ago, mainly as an exercise in SEO to drive more traffic to my portfolio. It did markedly increase traffic and on the personal side it provides a nice writing outlet, regardless of whether anyone out there is reading!

I digress – the speakers at Blogfest were fantastic from Miriam Gonzelez Durantes to the fabulously funny Caitlin Moran. Main takeaways for me were from social guru Paul Armstrong on making social media work for your blog. He had me hooked from this slide:

Tip! Sleep with a designer/photoshopper
It’s nice to see we designers are not completely redundant yet.

Paul presented some useful stats on the time UK users spend on the main social networks and user demographics. His main recommendation or “SEO crack” was Google+. Though still in its infancy it is linked to the mighty Google search and will help you get the most from your brand.

Social network stats
Source: Paul Armstrong, Mindshare

Another champion of Google+ was Matt Bennett from MEC Global who took a session on advanced SEO. He also advocated Google Authorship, where you can link content you publish on a specific domain to your Google+ profile. I will clearly need to spend this morning updating my presence on Google!

Brilliant day, I met a really diverse and interesting group of people and left feeling inspired. Have already signed up for next year, how’s that for joining in.

Spoilt for font choice?

Typography really suffered in its transition to the web. For years online typography involved choosing one of the few ‘web-safe’ fonts and making the best of it. Times New Roman or Georgia for the traditional, Arial or Verdana for the contemporary. Not forgetting every designer’s favourite, Comic sans:

Comic san

The advent of @font-face and services such as Typekit, Webtype, Fontdeck, and Google Web fonts means we now have thousands of fonts to choose from. But is this amount of choice making the web a better place? In my experience when a range of development options are given to the masses the result is rarely pretty. I’m convinced the downfall of MySpace was due to the endless number of fonts and backgrounds offered to users, which resulted in ugly and unreadable pages.

I read a great quote by Paul Scrivens that got me thinking:

“Instead of having a user agreement it would be cool if Typekit made you read a book on typography before you could begin using a font—the Web would improve tenfold”.

So what do you need to consider when deciding on fonts for your website? In his Smashing Magazine article ‘“What Font Should I Use?” Dan Mayer gives the following criteria for selecting the right font for the job:

1. Dress For The Occasion

Dress for the occasion

While appropriateness isn’t a sexy concept, it’s the acid test that should guide our choice of font. It’s like wearing the right dress to the disco. Personally, as a designer I tend to fall back on a few failsafe fonts for body text. They’re like a comfortable and trusted pair of pants.

2. Know Your Families: Grouping Fonts

Fonts are loosely grouped into six groups, some feel formal and old school while others more contemporary. Does the job call for a bold and punchy sans serif or a quirky, space-age slab serif? If you’re into the science, here’s a more technical guide.

3. Don’t Be a Wimp: The Principle of Decisive Contrast

We need to decide how to mix and match and most importantly, whether to mix and match at all. Some useful tips for font combinations here

Font combining
(Image: Smashing Magazine)

4. A Little Can Go a Long Way (or never exceed the recommended dose).

Applied sparingly to headlines a display font can add a well-needed dash of flavour to a design, but it can quickly clutter and over-complicate.

I have to add a number 5 to this list being –

5. Rendering

The ‘web safe’ fonts of old were crafted, adjusted or even developed for use on-screen so you could ensure the majority of your users would find them readable. Now we have a greater variety of fonts it has become apparent all are not equal over all operating systems, browsers and devices. I have had clients insist on a font that looks squeaky clean on a mac, only to be horrified at how nasty and pixelated it looks in Windows. The only way around this is to thoroughly test the fonts across all browsers. I also find the comparison tool offered by Typekit useful as it gives an approximation of how fonts render out in each browser:


In the end I believe it’s down to experience and putting your work in the hands of a seasoned designer. As a inexperienced designer you tend to cram in as much as possible, these days I find myself paring it back and taking away. All the points above really do come naturally after years of designing for online. Copy needs space to breathe.