A new chapter…

I must apologise for the rather “dear diary” style of this entry, but as I haven’t posted anything in quite a while felt obliged to put some sort of update on here!

Tomorrow is the first day at my new job and the first step on the road towards becoming a UX Designer. As is to be expected I’m feeling both excited and nervous but know that the company and my future colleagues are exceptional at what they do and have made me feel incredibly welcome on my previous visits to the office.

As of yet my specific role seems like it will be fairly flexible to begin with whilst I find my feet and determine what I’m best at and enjoy the most, and so I look forward to experimenting and attempting a range of tasks. I hope to expand on my daily work in this blog a little more in the future (subject to confidentiality restrictions) so will hopefully have some more interesting points of discussion soon.

Working in the centre of Sheffield should allow me to explore the city a little more as its not somewhere I’m familiar with, whilst on a related note I’m also looking forward to re-visiting Bristol where my girlfriend has relocated for work purposes. I went down this past weekend to help her move in and had a whistle-stop tour of the city which seems like a great place.

Joseph Marriott BSc (Hons)

Yesterday I was able to collect my results from University to find out what degree classification I’d been awarded and was delighted to learn I will be graduating next month with a First Class Honours degree in BSc ICT. My final year module results were as follows, with the extremely high dissertation mark of 89% being a particularly pleasant surprise:

  • Individual Project / Dissertation – 89% (A)
  • Systems Strategy – 87% (A)
  • eCommerce Business and Technology – 83% (A)
  • Advanced Authoring of Interactive Media – 67% (B)
  • Digital Marketing and Communications – 67% (B)

As the module with the lowest mark is actually dropped from the official classification I achieved an average of 83% for the year, well above the 70% A grade boundary and something I’m incredibly proud of. After taking a few, dare I say well deserved, weeks off from the end of May when exams finished my attention is now turning to the task of finding employment, or at least work experience, in the UX Design discipline. Tomorrow I have an informal meeting regarding a potential opportunity with a local company that contributed towards my dissertation research so we shall see what happens there, and in my spare time I intend to look for ways to expand my UX portfolio of work, even if through completing personal projects at home.

I’m also looking forward to having some time again to really get stuck into design books, blogs and other media that I’ve had to neglect this past year due to university commitments, so I hope to get back on track with more regular blogging.

The Last Lecture

In 2007 Professor Randy Pausch, a terminal cancer patient and Professor at Carnegie Mellon University, delivered his last lecture titled “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams”. Sadly Randy passed away several months later, but what is clear from this incredibly moving, funny and inspirational lecture is how full a life he lived in his 47 years on Earth and how he was able to achieve all his childhood dreams (even the seemingly impossible ones). It’s becoming a bit of a cliche but in todays disposable world we do seem to place far too much importance on money and material goods, whilst forgetting we should do the things we enjoy each day, especially when these acts can also enrich the lives of others.

 

JC @ The Lowry, Manchester

I was lucky enough to go and see Mr Jamie Cullum perform at The Lowry in Manchester as part of his Momentum Tour last Sunday… and it was incredible!

First things first, the support act that evening was a BBC Introducing Act called The Lottery Winners. I went to take my seat not really knowing what to expect from them and was really surprised. They were brilliant (so brilliant in fact that I went away and bought their 3 songs available on iTunes)! I’m not usually the biggest fan of guitar based bands… for me they too often seems to be a focus on volume rather than quality, but this was not a criticism I could level at The Lottery Winners. The description on their website sums up how they sound pretty well, “Born in Salford and raised on romance, The Lottery Winners can be found pottering somewhere in-between the blithe of the Beach Boys and the suffering of the Smiths“. I also think a big part of how quickly myself, and the entire audience it seemed, warmed to this young act was down to the frontman’s  ability to talk and joke with the crowd in a genuine way.

Moving on to the main act and JC played a mind blowing set lasting just shy of 2 hours and 30 minutes. Supported by his usual band (who are all incredible musicians in their own right, as demonstrated by numerous instrumental solos) Jamie’s set was the perfect balance of his newer ‘pop’ hits and covers of jazz standards. There seems to be fewer and fewer artists today who sound just as good, if not better at a live performance than in the recording studio, but Jamie is definitely not one of these; the energy, passion (and a little craziness) that he puts into each performance is astounding. This is the third time I’ve seen him live (the first was way back when he released TwentySomething) and he is just getting better and better!

The evening ended with everyone on their feet dancing around to These Are The Days and Mixtape before leaving after an amazing solo encore performance of What A Difference A Day Makes. If you’ve got tickets to see him in the near future, you’re in for a treat… if not, buy some!

Final Year so far…

So I’m just about to start week 6 of my final year at University which means that I’m nearly a quarter of the way through; yikes! The past 5 weeks have just flown by, and in some ways I wish I could slow it down, despite enjoying [nearly] every second of it.

Firstly, I must apologise for the lack of blog posts recently; I am constantly finding little gems of information/facts/websites/articles/videos that I would love to share and talk about, but somehow always seem to find something else that needs doing before I get around to it.

Anyway, it’s great to be back in Huddersfield and to see my course-mates again, although I must admit it has been a bit of a struggle readjusting back to student life after a year of full time work at GlaxoSmithKline. I’ve got some great modules to study (and one not so great module, but we’ll ignore that for now) and some fantastic new lecturers.

I’ll just do a quick run through of the modules in case you’re interested:

  • Final Year Project / Dissertation – The biggest, and in some ways most important module of the year, this project is the supposed to be the culmination of everything you’ve learnt at University. It looks like mine will be primarily a research report with a focus on UX Design methodologies (as opposed to a technical development project), but there may be room for some sort of prototypes down the line. My project supervisor, John Bonner, thinks it would be really beneficial for me to complete this project with a local company that practices UX Design and has helped me to get in touch with, and arrange a meeting with a really interesting design agency based in Leeds. I’m very excited to be meeting with them on Tuesday so fingers crossed!
  • Digital Marketing & Communications – A fairly self-explanatory title, this module examines the various methods of digital marketing and the benefits/drawbacks of these. With a big focus placed on data and analytics I picked this optional module as it seems to be becoming ever more relevant in todays online world. I have two assignments for this module, one of which is due before Christmas, so I may go into a little more detail on this in a later post.
  • Systems Strategy Thinking – A particular favourite of mine, this module is taught by a new, and in my opinion, one of the best lectures at Huddersfield. As you might have guessed this module involves lots of thinking, but in particular, thinking holistically (as opposed to “analytically”) about systems. To add to the challenge, this does not mean systems as in an I.T. system… for Systems Strategy a system can anything from a house, to the education system. We were first introduced to the basic concepts of systems thinking, and are now turning our attention to Peter Checkland’s ‘Soft Systems Methodology’.
  • Advanced Authoring of Interactive Media – The only “technical” module I have this year, AAIM focuses on the development of applications for the smartphone platform. So far we have been brushing up on our JavaScript, AJAX, jQuery skills before attempting to build ‘hybrid’ mobile applications.
  • eCommerce, Business & Technology – I’ve left this module till last because I barely consider it worthy of being labelled a final year module, and instead consider it an annoying distraction (this isn’t just me being snobbish by the way; I’ve spoken to several lecturers who are trying their damned hardest to get this removed from the curriculum). Essentially all we have to do to pass this module is build an eCommerce website using the WordPress CMS and complete an exam that will, more than likely, be predominately made up of multiple choice questions… lets say no more.

Hack A Banana, Make A Keyboard

So you may be thinking I’ve gone mad with a title like that, but bear with me!

I recently stumbled across this wonderful video of a TED Talk by Jay Silver (an inventor/creative/teacher/eccentric and so on) that completely blew my mind! I won’t spoil what he’s come up with and demonstrates in the video but I will say that I completely agree with him when he says that we, as adults, really limit our creativity because we think we know what everything in the world does (or should do). As we grow we become constrained to only seeing how things are “supposed” to work, not how they could work. Take a pencil for example, give one to an adult and they’ll probably draw something with it… give it to a child and they’ll come up with tens or hundreds of other brilliant, unique ways in which it can be used. I guess the best way to unlock this thinking in adults is to give them the freedom and time every now and then to just pick an object and mess with it, without constraints or fear of being told what they’ve done is a stupid or pointless idea.

Anyway, enjoy the video, and I hope it makes you think twice about the way things [could] work… I certainly did.

Objectified

A while back I wrote about the documentary Helvetica, a film about the design of typefaces produced and directed by Gary Hustwit. I recently came across another of his films, Objectified, which looks at our relationship with manufactured products and their designers. Like Helvetica, Objectified features in depth interviews with some of the worlds most renowned designers who discuss their creative process and thoughts on the evolution of design. I’ve picked out some of the designers key points (and my favourite bits) below.

Dan Formosa & Davin Stowell (Smart Design)

Clients often come and say this is our user and give the average; for example “woman, 30 years old, 2.4 kids etc” and we say, thats really interesting, but we don’t care. If we are to design a great product, then we need to know the extremes – the strongest/weakest, oldest/youngest users and so on. If we get it right for these guys then the “middle” or “average” user will take care of itself.

Dieter Rams

Dieter outlined his “10 principles of Good Design”:

  • Good design should be innovative
  • Good design will make a product useful
  • Good design is aesthetic design
  • Good design will make a product understandable
  • Good design is honest
  • Good design is unobtrusive
  • Good design is long lived
  • Good design is consistency in every detail
  • Good design is environmentally friendly
  • Good design is as little design as possible.

Jonny Ive (Apple)

When designing with his team at Apple they look at different attributes of the design… for example, the materials they can use, the form connected to these materials, and how a user will be able to physically connect to the product (e.g. for an iPhone everything comes through the display). He also discussed the difficulties, and rewards, of designing something using as few parts as possible – the Macbook aluminium unibody enclosure for example. For the Macbook it was more like designing a process that enabled the product to be made from 1 or 2 parts than simply designing the end product.

Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec

Design is about creating an environment where people feel good – and recognising that when people make their choices in selecting designs/products, they’re asserting themselves.

Marc Newson

Anger and dissatisfaction play such a motivating role in what we (designers) do. I want to have things that don’t exist yet, that you can’t go out and buy… My job as a designer is to look into the future, its not to use any frame(s) of reference that exist. A key aim is also making things that are non-disposable… that don’t get dated. Marc mentions how watching the moon landing was a huge event for him – it was almost like looking at the future, and this is what he tries to accomplish in his work.

However, this does not mean abandoning everything from the past and present… People have a lot of memories which help give layers to an object – so I use a familiar craft, or something from a familiar culture, or something where you see a human scale; something sewn or iconic.

Karim Rashid

Why do we feel we need to keep revisiting old archetypes? Take the digital camera, their format & proportion – a horizontal rectangle, with the circular lens, “capture” button etc all in the same place/style as old analogue cameras. These analogue cameras had a form that was defined by the films used. We don’t use films anymore, so why do we still use the form designed to house films? There’s something almost perverse about how we live, its like we’re afraid to admit we’re in the 3rd technological revolution. I have an iPod, mobile phone and laptop and yet I’ll go home and sit on my little wood spindle, whittingale-like chairs. It’s strange – its like me working on my computer and then having to go out – what am I going to do, go get a horse and carriage… no!

David Kelley (IDEO)

If you can’t get your GPS thing working in your car, there should be a riot because they’re so poorly designed, but instead they’ll sit there and think “oh, I’m not very smart, I can’t make this satnav work”. I like setting people the test of designing something that gets better with use (his dads leather briefcase…. it will get passed on and gets better with use), there’s very few things that don’t degrade with usage.

Bill Moggridge (IDEO)

Like David Kelley, Bill really believes in the concept of wearing in, instead of wearing out a product. “Create something where the emotional relationship gets better over time, where a user becomes more fond over time.”

Rob Walker (New York Times Magazine)

The film ends with part of the interview with Rob Walker, a journalist who writes about design, who explains his really interesting view on how we relate to products and designs today.

“If I had a billion dollars to spend on a marketing campaign, it would be urging people to make the most of the products they already own. We’re so focused on the new developments that we don’t have space in our brains for the stuff in our attics, or scattered around the home. If you had 20 minutes before the hurricane arrived to pack up the items most valuable to you you’d choose those that have associated memories, or some meaning. You wouldn’t be thinking, “that ‘x’ got a great review on that design blog”, because it doesn’t mean anything to you as a person – it doesn’t reflect your story and who you are.”

Finally, a few other interesting points raised by the other designers in the documentary:

  • Designers now seem to be working less on end products, and more on scenarios that will help people use (existing) products. I hope that in the future designers are the “intellectuals” used when someone is making a “policy” for people.
  • Form vs Function: analogue products were usually able to allow function to follow form. For example, an alien would be able to land on Earth and work out roughly how to use a spoon or chair just through the products form. The microchip/digital age has completely changed this.

For more information about the Objectified documentary visit the official website: http://www.objectifiedfilm.com/about/