Blind criticism

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Paul Boag Posted by: Paul Boag On Thursday, 7th February, 2013

Blind criticism

On this week’s podcast David Ball goes blind, Christian Heilmann rants at the ranters and I widen the scope of web standards.

Season 5:
The estimated time to read this article is 57 minutes
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Paul Boag:
On this week’s podcast David Bell goes blind, Christian Heilmann rants at the ranters and I widen the scope of web standards.

Paul Boag:
So I supposedly need to start the show today with one of those apology things.

Marcus Lillington:
What have you done?

Paul Boag:
I don’t do them very well. To be honest I think it’s a bit of cheek that this young whippersnapper even brought up the subject, even dared to mention in my presence that I have made a mistake. See, it’s that – Brad. Do you remember Brad from last week?

Marcus Lillington:
Brad, yes. Yes, yes.

Paul Boag:
Brad – one of the ones that we covered who wrote a tutorial – really good tutorial on responsive web design. And, not only – I was slightly derisory towards Brad because he criticized Boagworld and pointed out its failures in response – as a responsive web design piece, this is before the current iteration.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, yes.

Paul Boag:
And admittedly he was right, but it was very rude of him to bring it up in front of an audience while I was sitting there. Now he has gone on to point out another failure of mine …

Marcus Lillington:
Right.

Paul Boag:
… which is I called him Brad Forest, rather than Brad Frost.

Marcus Lillington:
Oh well I – you know I – sorry Brad, I normally pick up on things like this.

Paul Boag:
So basically, Brad, you need to stop correcting me, it’s getting embarrassing now. You’re just looking petty-minded in wanting your name pronounced correctly.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah, goodness. Whatever that is.

Paul Boag:
I mean some people are just – expect so much, don’t they? It’s just that – you know there is no pleasing them. So there you go, that’s – that’s the correction done at the start of the show. Are we going to talk about stuff?

Marcus Lillington:
He is so sorry, you can tell, cant you? You are so sorry.

Paul Boag:
What, about the pronouncing his name wrong?
Marcus Lillington:
No just about –

Paul Boag:
Secretly, I did it on purpose. Stupid little whippersnapper; young, talented, damn him. Right.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes.

Paul Boag:
Another week.

Marcus Lillington:
I have been away.

Paul Boag:
Have you? Where have you been? To be – do you know what, I don’t care. I don’t care where you’ve been.

Marcus Lillington:
I went to a conference.

Paul Boag:
Oh, no. I do care about that actually because …

Marcus Lillington:
But I’m not going to tell you now.

Paul Boag:
Okay, I asked for that. I care about it because you owe me a blog post about the conference.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes. And I’m currently writing it…

Paul Boag:
Hurrah!

Marcus Lillington:
And –

Paul Boag:
Was it good? Did you have a good time? This – well, first of all tell – say what the conference was.

Marcus Lillington:
It was New Adventures conference; the last New Adventures.

Paul Boag:
Oh, you’re kidding me. They’re not doing it again?

Marcus Lillington:
No. Well not – the – I mean he might do something in the future, but not a New Adventures.

Paul Boag:
I can’t believe, I let you have my ticket.
Marcus Lillington:
Yeah.

Paul Boag:
Ha, ha, ha, ha. Looked like you had a good time as well. Didn’t – Leigh went with you?

Marcus Lillington:
Yes. So, obviously we were in bed by 9:30 every night.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, right.

Marcus Lillington:
Leigh lives in a vegetarian household, where –

Paul Boag:
So he consumed huge quantities of meat.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah. Well so – and he is – and I don’t think he is allowed to drink either.

Paul Boag:
Oh, poor guy.

Marcus Lillington:
So – so, as a – I’m just making this up. But no – no, I’m kind of partially making it up, but anyway. So we looked on the kind of bumph that they had sent through to us, I mean it had like restaurants and pubs…

Paul Boag:
Oh, that was good.

Marcus Lillington:
… it was great. And we found this brilliant pub where we went drinking proper real ales made from just down the valley or whatever.

Paul Boag:
Yeah. Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
So I had loads of beer. Then we were wandering about and we found meat on swords. We found a Brazilian barbeque…

Paul Boag:
Oh really?

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah.

Paul Boag:
Oh, awesome.

Marcus Lillington:
So Leigh is in like heaven. It’s like – so yeah, we were eating…

Paul Boag:
So, I naively thought, when you said I’ve been away to a conference, you might talk about the conference and not the drink and the food. But I mean – it was stupid of me, wasn’t it?

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah, I will get to that.

Paul Boag:
Okay.

Marcus Lillington:
And anyway, as you said, there is a blog post coming on – on …

Paul Boag:
So you don’t want to give it away, is that what it is?

Marcus Lillington:
No, all I’m going to say is, the theme of the conference – and it’s one of my kind of favorite subjects, is the kind of follow your bliss idea …

Paul Boag:
Right.

Marcus Lillington:
… which is a bit hippy.

Paul Boag:
Yeah. This is very hippy.

Marcus Lillington:
But really what it just – it boils down to is make a living out of the things you like doing…

Paul Boag:
Yes.

Marcus Lillington:
… which obviously some people go…

Paul Boag:
Is easy – and that’s –

Marcus Lillington:
…well I can’t do that.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
I – you know – or some wonderful things – one of the women, Jessica Flische [ph] I think her name is, she put up a – she basically blog – made a blog post and someone had – someone had commented it on saying, well does that is that mean that I have to play GoldenEye and masturbate all the time?

[Laughter]

Marcus Lillington:
And it…

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
… it’s like kind of fair enough. I mean not everybody knows what they want to do. But if you’ve got to – try and make it – try and make your working life, which is going to be 40, 50 years of your life doing something you kind of remotely like doing.

Paul Boag:
Yeah. Yes.

Marcus Lillington:
Or if you’ve got two things in your job that you do and you really like one of them or you like one of them a bit, and the other one you don’t like a bit, do the one you like a bit and make that your career. That kind of – anyway, that was the thrust of it.

Paul Boag:
This is quite uncomfortable for me, because it leads me to compliment you and Chris, which obviously doesn’t come very, very nicely to me. But you guys have been brilliant in letting me do that because I change what my bliss is the whole time, for want of a better word, don’t I, and flip from thing to thing. And you guys have been great at kind of letting me do that and then trying to make money off of the back of it. So, you can kind of get yourself in that position, but it isn’t very easy to get. I think I’m very fortunate to be in that position.

Marcus Lillington:
Well, there is actually quite a big connection there that I’ve never thought of until you said that, which – New Adventures is run by Simon Collison and Greg – can’t remember his second name, Wood, I think, Greg Wood. Simon Collison used to work at Erskine Design and he left.

Paul Boag:
Yes. Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
So I’m wondering whether they didn’t give him the leeway that he wanted.

Paul Boag:
Yes.

Marcus Lillington:
Who knows? I – he only said that he was knackered at the end of the day, so I just said, cheers, great conference…

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
… just at the end sort of thing. I didn’t sit down and talk to him. But I want to ask him one day about why he left.

Paul Boag:
I have asked him, but I don’t know whether this is probably the right environment to be discussing it.

Marcus Lillington:
Okay. Yeah, okay, fair enough.

Paul Boag:
It was complicated.

Marcus Lillington:
Anyway. Yeah.

Paul Boag:
But certainly it did very much drive home to me, talking to him, how incredibly fortunate I am working with you two and…

Marcus Lillington:
And you are, you so are.

Paul Boag:
… the kind of set up that we’ve got. But that’s it, that’s as much as you’re getting out of me. I – it was uncomfortable even going this far. I feel quite dirty now.

Marcus Lillington:
But.

Paul Boag:
So is it – but what?

Marcus Lillington:
There is a but and I…

Paul Boag:
The trouble with it –

Marcus Lillington:
…I feel slightly irked about something…

Paul Boag:
Oh go on then.

Marcus Lillington:
… and – I don’t know what it is.

Paul Boag:
In what – in relation to the conference?

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah, yeah. In relationship to – yeah, the kind of – is this …

Paul Boag:
It all sounds quite naïve to me.

Marcus Lillington:
Well, yeah maybe that’s it. And also – you know, there were a couple of things – the big name speaker was a guy called Wayne Hemingway, who basically set up Red or Dead with his wife.

Paul Boag:
Oh right, yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
So you know – and a couple of things he said, which kind of annoyed me a bit. But I’ll cover – I’ll put that in the – into the blog post. But yeah, I think it’s just – yeah, maybe it is a bit naïve, especially in this day and age when times are tough.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
I don’t think – I started off by saying this is one of my favorite subjects, which it is.

Paul Boag:
Yes.

Marcus Lillington:
The kind of search for everlasting shining piece of mind and all that kind of thing. And that’s what this is about, but it has just left me slightly awkward about it and I’ve got –

Paul Boag:
I think –

Marcus Lillington:
I‘m going to use this post to find out what it is. I don’t know what it is yet.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, I mean, I think – for me, when people talk in this kind of way of go follow your dreams and especially these days the thing is, is it is theoretically possible. We now live in a world where it –there always used to be gatekeepers, right? If you wanted to be a musician, you had to go through a record label. If you wanted to be an author, you had to go through a publishing house. If you wanted to be a creative designer, you would have to get a job with an agency. These days you can just do it, right? So theoretically it’s possible to follow your dream and to do whatever you wanted. If tomorrow I woke up and decided that I wanted to be an illustrator, I could quit my job and I could start doing illustration online. I don’t need anybody’s permission, I don’t need anything else.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah.

Paul Boag:
But when you hear stories like this from conferences, these are all people that have succeeded in doing that.

Marcus Lillington:
Of course.

Paul Boag:
You don’t hear someone stand on the – stand up there and go, yes now I work in a cubical for an accounting company because that’s the only job I could get after throwing in a reasonably decent career to fail at being a musician.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah and then my – yeah, and then my wife had triplets.

Paul Boag:
Yeah. Yeah, or I got ill or – there are all these – there are all these – you only ever hear the success stories, you don’t hear the failures.

Marcus Lillington:
That’s what annoyed me about Wayne Hemingway.

Paul Boag:
And also the other thing, right, I talk about – I’m sitting here saying that I get to live my dream, I get to do what I love doing, and I do the vast majority of the time, but there is still a lot of shit. We worry about money, whether enough thing – money is coming into the business at any one time; we have a client that is a pain in the ass. I get fed up with traveling. Even – even the good stuff like the traveling, which I love, you get sick of it after a while. And there is a degree where there is a danger of turning what you love into your job.

Marcus Lillington:
Absolutely. Been there, done that.

Paul Boag:
Because it – yeah, because in the love of it gets stolen away in the practicalities of doing it and making a business of it. So ….

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah, exactly. That feeling.

Paul Boag:
Right. Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
It’s kind of like yes, but no.

Paul Boag:
Yes.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes.

Paul Boag:
There is a line there somewhere.

Marcus Lillington:
But no.

Paul Boag:
You have kind of got to accept – I mean, I totally agree with the principle that you’re spending eight hours a day for 40 years you have got to love what you do.

Marcus Lillington:
And not many – and I would argue that not a lot of people do love what they do.

Paul Boag:
Right, but I don’t –

Marcus Lillington:
But I don’t particularly love what I do, but I don’t dislike it either.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, that’s what –

Marcus Lillington:
And there’s a difference.

Paul Boag:
I think that’s probably – yes, that is the difference. Everybody go, – you know you get this thing that goes on where people say I love getting up in the morning and going to work, right? I don’t, to be frank.

Marcus Lillington:
No.

Paul Boag:
I enjoy my job. There is a lot about it I like, but if I could sit around and play Golden Eye and masturbate, I would do.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah. That’s the one, isn’t it?

Paul Boag:
Yeah. You know I would sit and do nothing. If I won the lottery to – this is the other thing people say is, if I won the lottery, I would carry on working because I love doing it.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah, well I wouldn’t? I’ll tell you that for nothing.

Paul Boag:
Well I would – no neither would I. I would fiddle with the web. I would build things and…

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah.

Paul Boag:
… maybe build a website for a charity every once in a while and fiddle at it, but it’s very different to having to run Headscape and the pressures that go with that.

Marcus Lillington:
Deadlines and the like, yeah.

Paul Boag:
Yeah. So it’s a little –

Marcus Lillington:
Who wants deadlines if you don’t have to have them.

Paul Boag:
No.

Marcus Lillington:
It’s – yeah, anyway whatever. I suppose – and now I’m going to repeat myself, we’ve covered that one, but yes, it’s a tricky one. And I will probably refer back to it anyway later.

Paul Boag:
Yes, probably. Okay, shall we move on and actually talk about something proper.

Blind for a week

David Ball wearing a blindfold while using his computer.

David Ball decides to experience life as a blind computer user.

All right. So, first up, we’re going to look at my new hero. I’ve got so much respect for this guy, a guy called David Ball, right? And it sounds like he is just a – I mean, judging by the number of comments on his site, I imagine he is reasonably well known and I’ve just never heard of him, which is always embarrassing. This seems to be happening to me a lot recently. I think I’m out of touch.

Marcus Lillington:
You’re – yeah, that’s what it is. You’re just – you’re getting to that age now…

Paul Boag:
I’m old and out of touch. Yeah, there is a …

Marcus Lillington:
You can’t be bothered; would rather be playing GoldenEye.

Paul Boag:
Yeah – and masturbating, yeah. There’s a – there is a picture of him and he is quite young. I think that’s possibly why I don’t know him. I don’t know young people anymore.

Marcus Lillington:
Well, I’ve read stuff of Silktide’s website before.

Paul Boag:
Have you?

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah, they…

Paul Boag:
Yeah, I have I think…

Marcus Lillington:
… these guys – these were the guys that decided that they were going to stop doing client work and replace it with product work.

Paul Boag:
Was it really? Oh, it was them. Well, anyway David Ball, I – he is my new hero, whoever he is. David, if you’re listening to this, you’re my hero. Because he has done something that I have started and stopped so many times that I can’t mention it, right. What he has done is he decided that he wanted to experience what it is like for somebody with a visual impairment to use the Internet, right? And so he turned on his screen reader, closed his eyes and off he went, okay? Now I’ve done this, right? I’ve managed to go five minutes, six minutes tops. Try it. Seriously guys, try it. He did a week like this, right?

Marcus Lillington:
That’s astounding. That is astounding.

Paul Boag:
Absolutely astounding. I mean he is quite honest in his post. He says that there were times when he backed himself into a corner and had no idea what was going on, so he peeked. And I’ve got ultimate respect and I think to begin with when he first started, he looked quite a lot, but as he gained confidence, he ended up wearing a scarf to – blindfolded himself, so he couldn’t see. And – so off he went and he spent a week doing this and Wow! Wow! Wow! Wow! I would love to do this. No I wouldn’t, I would hate to do this, but I would love to feel like I should do this. No – or something like that anyway. So, so impressive and he learned a lot of lessons, as you would do.

The trouble is – I mean, he says this – he is a – he is not a stranger to building accessible websites, neither am I. I’ve built a lot of accessible websites over the years, Headscape do a lot of accessible websites. But nothing beats …

Marcus Lillington:
Actually, experiencing it. Yeah.

Paul Boag:
… doing – living it– yeah. Because knowing all the theory is not the same as doing the practice and even though he knew all this stuff, he still learned loads when he actually lived as someone using a screen reader. This is why companies like AbilityNet, really encourage you to – if you’re serious about accessibility you need to get sites tested by real disabled users. It’s not enough just knowing the theory, you have got to know the reality too.
So shall we have look at some of the things that he learned because it is quite fascinating.

Here is number one, which I did know, but I can completely understand him being kind of surprised at this, which is a screen reader reads the entire desktop and not just the browser. And it’s easy for us as web designers to kind of focus so much on the kind of browser experience, so we don’t have to think about all the other elements they’re having to deal with. How to even get to the browser in the first place, I think that kind of stuff. So, that’s not a big point, but it is worth mentioning. Second point is that the crux of it: it’s difficult. [Laughs] No shit Sherlock!

Marcus Lillington:
I think it’s sort of a case of – it is bound to be difficult, because you’re not used to it.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, I mean that’s what he says, that the learning curve is steep: getting to know the keyboard shortcuts just to move around the page is difficult; as for remembering where the keys are on your own keyboard when you’re blindfolded… So obviously he was – you could argue someone that is visually impaired has probably got more experience and so is more used to that kind of world.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah, it’s going to seem even more difficult to a sighted user.

Paul Boag:
Yes.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah.

Paul Boag:
But I think you got to be really careful about that one, because that can be a really useful [Multiple Speakers] yeah absolutely.

Marcus Lillington:
Oh yeah, that will be fine for someone who is blind.

Paul Boag:
At some point a blind person has to sit down and start using up the web for the first time, so absolutely. Let’s have a look at what he says about that. Yeah, he says that basically it does melt his brain as he tries to deal with this sea of electronic voices coming back at you.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah.

Paul Boag:
And obviously the longer you do it, the better you got it here, so… but it is difficult. Third, he says, it’s different for different browsers and this is an important one and he has got some stats here about what browsers blind users prefer with Internet Explorer 8 at 30%, 9 at 28%, and Firefox at 20%, and he actually discovered that his favorite browser is Chrome: that the experience was different and so he switched to Firefox because it did a very good job at doing accessible navigation. So it does make a difference as to what browsers you use, which is fascinating.

Firefox for example, seems to deal with some HTML5 Nav elements much better and so there’s all kinds of different things to consider. I will let you – when we kind of go over these things, I don’t want to kind of go into it too much detail because go and read the post, it’s such a good post that you want to kind of look at yourself.

Marcus Lillington:
I would have a two hour podcast.

Paul Boag:
Yes, that too. Number four he has got is that you learn to listen fast, right? This is just – this is absolutely amazing how if you’ve ever heard somebody that really is visually impaired using one of these devices, they do listen to it at a rate that’s almost incomprehendable, right? Well it is.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah.

Paul Boag:
Listen to this, I’ve got a bit of video that he refers to. Do you want to turn us up, Marcus?

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah, I think you’re on.

Paul Boag:
Right, okay. Let’s – oh, I need to turn the sound on, here we go.

[Video]

Paul Boag:
I mean that’s just …

Marcus Lillington:
Insane.

Paul Boag:
How can a human being process that. Now I’ve heard Robin Christopherson who …

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah, I was going to say, he is the guy that I’ve seen talk two or three times and does it. They just – it’s like, because it’s the electronic voice he has got, that’s got [affects robotic voice] absolutely no personality in it whatsoever. It’s just like: ‘Argh, turn it off, argh! Yeah, so I suppose if it’s the only – it’s your only method of getting the information that you get used to it.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, but interestingly I don’t think he has it quite as fast as that, I mean that was just insanity.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah.

Paul Boag:
But you do have to learn to do it faster, otherwise, like, your life would slip by. If you imagine some web pages, the number of links on them – the number of – oh, just it would be painful. And he is kind of goes on to talk about how some popular websites are actually very difficult to use. Facebook for example, forget it, right. And it’s really interesting because there are articles …

Marcus Lillington:
Really? That’s surprising.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, there are articles that talk about how accessible Facebook is in theory, but they’ve got infinite scrolling, JavaScript infinite scrolling thing that basically just, combined with a screen reader, reduced his computer to a crawl: he couldn’t do anything on it at all. And then Amazon is the classic one, that Robin Christopherson always criticizes. You think: ‘Amazon, for crying out loud, you’re the biggest online retailer in the world. You really have no excuse’.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah.

Paul Boag:
He says, he went to the Amazon homepage: there were 1,000 links on the page! I mean, how do you even begin to navigate that? It’s just ridiculous. One that it is quite shocking is that link titles aren’t helpful, right? This surprised me to be honest, and I’ve read it before, I knew it before this article, but it’s really quite interesting. He says you would always assume text added to a link as a title attribute will be read aloud by screen reader, instead of the links normal anchor text. So in other words, if your anchor text is red ‘click here’, right, which we say we shouldn’t do, but still loads the people do it, or ‘read more’, for example. You kind of justify it by going: ‘Oh yes, well, if people are visually impaired, then there is a title tag that says what they’re reading more of…’. Well it won’t get read …

Marcus Lillington:
Right.

Paul Boag:
… which is really interesting. It turns out it’s not used at all except on the rare times when there is no link anchor text at all so if there is just a link around an image for example …

Marcus Lillington:
Right, then it is.

Paul Boag:
… then it will be, but if there is no – if there is text in it, it will just read the text rather than the title tags.

Marcus Lillington:
So, you really, really can’t use ‘click here’ or ‘read more’?

Paul Boag:
No. You should…

Marcus Lillington:
You can kind of do with not using that any.

Paul Boag:
Yeah. Well, you shouldn’t, that’s how poor people are.

Number 7 is that, auto focus is annoying when you suddenly are thrown from one part of the page to another. So you need to be really careful how you use that. Being W3C Valid means jack. Thank you. It’s so good to see that written down. I’ve always thought to make my websites pass the W3C Validator, but even the big shiny green tick you barely make – even that begins to make a site accessible. And we’re saying this more to – more to clients, when they’re coming back and they’re saying to us: ‘Oh, we want to be AA compliant’, or whatever. It’s not enough, you can’t just – oh sorry – we can’t just think in terms of the automated checkers, or W3C Validators, or anything like that. It’s got to be more than that. You got to put more thought into it.

Number 9, is easiest to navigate using headings, so it’s really important that your documents are nice and semantically written up in order to help people, so that’s really good.

And number 10, his final conclusion is, blind people are very good at keeping their rage under control, which I just think is brilliant. So that’s absolutely superb. Very good post. I would encourage you even to do it for half an hour and see how he get on. Because it is quite an eye opener, and it’s quite an experience. If you want to – oh, now you see there is – this is the point, if you want to see a screen reader in action and a proper person using it.

Marcus Lillington:
A proper person.

Paul Boag:
Proper person, not a pretend person!

Marcus Lillington:
A proper person, yes…

Paul Boag:
Robin Christopherson is going to be talking at an event in Portsmouth, I think it’s called Altitude, that I’m also going to be at – sorry, I’m just trying to search on this. That’s really annoying isn’t it? I hadn’t thought about it, here we go. Yes, Altitude 2003, Altitude.io and this is going to be happening in February. Our poor internet connection means I can’t tell you the date until it actually…

Marcus Lillington:
You really mean 2003?

Paul Boag:
2013.

Marcus Lillington:
I was going to say…

Paul Boag:
So it’s going to be on Wednesday 27th of February 2013. There is going to be Robin Christopherson there, there is going to be Jeremy Keith, Mike Kus and I’m going to be interviewing all three of them. And it will be particularly interesting to interview Robin Christopherson, who obviously is going to be talking about accessibility, and I will ask him how he keeps his rage under control, there you go. So come along to that, it’s in Portsmouth, check it out, it’s only like £35 or something, so it’s an absolute bargain of an…

Marcus Lillington:
When is it?

Paul Boag:
It is Wednesday 27th of February from 7 PM and it’s at the top of The Spinnaker Tower, in Portsmouth.

Marcus Lillington:
That’s the day before my birthday.

Paul Boag:
Come along.

Marcus Lillington:
No, it’s like an afternoon out in Portsmouth.

Paul Boag:
It’s in the evening.

Marcus Lillington:
Evening?

Paul Boag:
7 o’clock.

Marcus Lillington:
Okay.

Paul Boag:
See now you’re going: ‘Ah no, I’m not going to do that because that’s outside of work hours’. Okay, let’s move on then with Marcus’s complete and utter caring about accessibility.

Drive by criticism must die

Christian Heilmanns post on drive by criticism

Christian Heilmann takes a stand against drive by criticism and shows us a better way.

Paul Boag:
All right. So we come on to a post by Christian Heilmann. This was suggested by someone. Stu Robson.

Marcus Lillington:
Stu Robson.

Paul Boag:
Thank you, Stu. I like it when people suggest things, if you would like to suggest things too, and make me happy, then go to boagworld.com/season4/5 and post your suggestions for new content there because it’s always good. This is a relatively recent – very recent post.

Marcus Lillington:
Is it?

Paul Boag:
27th of January.

Marcus Lillington:
That’s 2013, that’s not – that’s like yesterday.

Paul Boag:
Yesterday.

Marcus Lillington:
So this was recommended this morning?

Paul Boag:
No, it recommended yesterday.

Marcus Lillington:
Cool.

Paul Boag:
So there you go. So Christian Heilmann, having …

Marcus Lillington:
Who looks like Robert Plant, I always think.

Paul Boag:
I don’t know who Robert Plant is.

Marcus Lillington:
Lead singer in Led Zeppelin.

Paul Boag:
I don’t know who Led Zeppelin…

Marcus Lillington:
Yes you do, Paul, okay?

Paul Boag:
It’s about criticism.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes.

Paul Boag:
And this is a funny one for us to cover really, but I think it – that the stuff that he talks about in this kind of applies at lots of different levels, right? It applies at the web community level and how we interact with one another and how we move the web community along, which is where – what he is mainly focusing on in the article. But if it had been just that, I probably wouldn’t have covered it, because I don’t feel it will be applicable enough to the audience that listens to the show.

But it also applies on a kind of agency level internally within an organization like Headscape, how we interact with one another. And then also it applies, but in the relationship between the client and the web designer, and the back and forth there. And it’s basically about: how do you go about telling somebody that you disagree with what they’ve done in a way that makes you not an asshole? And I don’t think we’re very good at that, and I think it’s made worse by the fact that a lot of our communications are electronic these days.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah and a lot of people are total cowards.

Paul Boag:
Yes.

Marcus Lillington:
And feel that it’s perfectly okay to say hurtful, nasty things because they’re not in the same room. They wouldn’t dream of saying …

Paul Boag:
Yes.

Marcus Lillington:
… things like that in the same room.

Paul Boag:
Absolutely. And I think really it’s all about – the thing is that to some extent criticism is an essential part of any process really. So it’s an essential part of us maintaining the standards within Headscape, that I can go and pick at par a designers work, in the nicest possible way, so that they excel and it gets better; equally a client needs to be able to turn around and push the designer to do more and better, or the agency to do more and better there. Equally the agency needs to be able to tell the client that their idea is bad; and even within the web community as a whole as we explore new practices and techniques, some of them are going to be Duff’ens, some of them are going to be ideas that aren’t practical for certain reasons, we need to be able to say that and we need to be able to push things on.

Marcus Lillington:
People need to be criticize you, Paul, definitely.

Paul Boag:
Indeed.

Marcus Lillington:
They need to be able to say: ‘You’re wrong, Paul’.

Paul Boag:
And they do many, many times a day. But the trouble is, that, I think Christian Heilmann isn’t criticizing criticism. He is criticizing drive by criticism, which I think is a great way of putting it, that kind of drive-by-shooting mentality. And he is concerned that we’re seeing an increasing amount of badly executed criticism that’s scaring, stifling and making people feel like a failure, and that we need to be careful and we need to try to avoid that. And he talks about how good criticism takes time and effort. A good critic doesn’t just point out the flaws in something. Instead they kind of explain why they perceived these things as flaws and what impact that, kind of has on the overall state of things and he does it in a nice way. And he talks about how many people are put off of putting stuff online. Putting stuff out there because of a fear of criticism, he talks about how he spent a day at a hack event helping people port their existing or completely new apps across on to a new system, I guess.

And it was great to work with a load of developers over that day, but he was struck, how incredibly grateful people and thankful people were, when he helped them out with their problems that they got stuck on, and when he asked these developers about what – surely you’re used to other people helping you out. That’s kind of standard par of what we’re doing, do you not ask questions online? He said, well the overall answer he got is that people were scared to ask stupid, what they considered stupid questions online for fear of people criticizing them.

Marcus Lillington:
Well, other than you and I, everyone in Headscape – all of which are capable of writing posts – all go: oh, I don’t really want to because people will think it’s rubbish.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
And it’s like, I don’t want to be like, well, who cares?

Paul Boag:
Yeah, that takes a certain character.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah. And it is this – I do – if you read any popular article and just go and have a look at the comments, it does make you want to slash your wrists because of the idiocy of half the people commenting.

Paul Boag:
It depend – it really depends on the environment. I’ve talked about this before, the commenting, yes on Twitter, yes on YouTube, yes on Facebook or …

Marcus Lillington:
YouTube probably takes the biscuit, actually.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, YouTube is just unbelievable. But for example the commenting on my blog is always very constructive and I think ….

Marcus Lillington:
I think someone said bollocks to what – the last post I read.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, in a very tongue-in-cheek way. But yes they did, that was their entire comment, wasn’t it?! Just the word bollocks, which I thought was quite funny.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes.

Paul Boag:
But, no generally speaking I think the commenting on our blog is good, because people know us. They know us through the podcast, and it’s more personal and so that makes it harder to throw random horribleness at people, but it really does sadden me, this state of affairs; it saddens me that people at Headscape worry about posting stuff online. It saddens me that people regularly give up speaking because they feel criticized whenever they speak, it saddens me. The people won’t even ask questions online and that this is what Christian Heilmann is really kind of picking apart.

Marcus Lillington:
I do – I just looked at – you’re probably going to get into this, but Steve Klabnik, this is talking about Twitter, Twitter makes it so hard not to accidentally be an arsehole.

Paul Boag:
It does, because when you’re stuck to 140 characters, it is quite difficult.

Marcus Lillington:
Because you can’t explain yourself.

Paul Boag:
No. No, it’s not a great medium. What it goes on to, mind, which is really nice, is he posts a response somebody wrote – so somebody proposed a new technique for dealing with JavaScript and loading scripts, and styles and that kind of thing. And he includes the reply that he thinks is a great template to constructive criticism, good criticism. I just want to read a couple of bits there. He starts off, hey Jan glad to see people hacking around, coming up with new ideas is always good thing [sic], no matter how realistic they are, blah, blah, blah. So he starts off hey …

Marcus Lillington:
Positive, positive.

Paul Boag:
… great, you’re doing stuff, it’s great you’re putting new ideas out there, you’re trying new things. By the way, the approach you described has not been done by anyone else in the past, right, which is a good thing. And then he goes on to say, but I believe there is good reasons for that. And then he starts going through point by point why he feels that this idea wouldn’t work. But after that he then concludes, let me see if I can find it, by the way don’t give up trying crazy ideas, it’s something that leads to great discoveries. And I just think that is such a good template there, he starts with an encouragement, he breaks down his criticism point by point, he is explaining very specifically why he doesn’t feel that it’ll work and then concludes by an encouragement again and lifting someone up. I just think that is such a good template.

Marcus Lillington:
And there is another positive here. Christian Heilmann is famous.

Paul Boag:
Yes.

Marcus Lillington:
People know him, he is entertaining, good speaker that kind of thing and he is impressed by the guy and he is writing about him, so it’s kind of like he has added kudos to himself.

Paul Boag:
To himself by giving good constructive criticism, yeah he actually says that, doesn’t he?

Marcus Lillington:
I think he does, I couldn’t find it.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, he says …

Marcus Lillington:
“I got a massive respect for Davide”

Paul Boag:
And he’d never …

Marcus Lillington:
Someone I’ve never heard of before.

Paul Boag:
Yeah. So, it’s kind of a win-win on all sides, isn’t it really? So, there was no reason really to include this in a sense. It’s not something you’re gonna learn from, it’s not kind of a new technique that you can adopt, but I think talking about these kinds of things just raises the whole standard of the discourse that’s going online. And it’s so important to know and learn how to provide constructive criticism. One of the – probably the only thing I learned from my degree course was – because I did an Art degree – was how to do a constructive criticism and how to encourage someone and to lead them because especially – because your work is incredibly personal to you, you invest a lot in it. And it’s very easy to get ripped down, when you put yourself out there and – just take me in that SEO post, I say that I don’t care about criticism, I’ve got thick skin. But even I got ripped down by that. It is easy to be pulled apart.

Marcus Lillington:
I thought of – I’m going to recommend a post for next week, which is …

Paul Boag:
Okay.

Marcus Lillington:
Mark Boulton talking about design critiques.

Paul Boag:
Oh, okay. Cool.

Marcus Lillington:
From a couple of years ago.

Paul Boag:
Link in the show notes. You need to give me the link to that. You’ve now committed.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes.

Paul Boag:
Committed us to it, so that’s it: we’ve got to include that in next week’s show, sounds like a really good one.

Marcus Lillington:
It will.

Paul Boag:
So there you go, check out Christian’s article, he kind of – he goes obviously into a lot more depth than I have in my ramblings here. I need a lot more coherence. But let’s move on to the next post.

A wider definition of web standards

Mailchimp tone of voice guide

I look at how standards are not just for the broader web, but also they should exist within your own business.

So I’m taking a bit of a liberty with this one, because it’s one of my own posts. So it’s been recommended by no one, but me.

Marcus Lillington:
Okay.

Paul Boag:
But the reason it’s been recommended by no one, it would be, I know it would be. I know you ….

Marcus Lillington:
People are out there, recommending it as we speak.

Paul Boag:
Well, yes, as they’re hearing this, they would be. The reason they haven’t recommended it yet, is because it hasn’t been published. But I know that there would just be hundreds of emails and comments and Twitter posts …

Marcus Lillington:
It would have made it to the BBC News home page.

Paul Boag:
It will be, yeah, it will be very big news. I wanted to talk about it, because I got quite – it was one of those posts that when I sat down and wrote it, I surprised myself, at quite how difficult our jobs are, basically. Not me personally, more clients’ jobs than me personally.

Marcus Lillington:
Okay.

Paul Boag:
So it’s the next post in my web governance series, right. In the last post I talked about kind of policies and procedures and stuff like that. In this post I kind of build on that and looks at standards. And we all kind of know about web standards, don’t we? And the web standard movement has taught us about best practice and standards that make our site more efficient. But traditionally we’ve always thought about web standards being about HTML, CSS, JavaScript, technical stuff. But actually, I think it’s a lot more than that. I think standards, web standards apply to a huge plethora of different things. And it’s something that we need to be recommending to our clients, that there are standards they need to be putting in place and as website owners that we need to put in place. And these just are really important things especially as your sites get bigger.

So, there’s standards in like, four different areas, that I’ve kind of outlined. Design standards, build standards, content standards, and social media standards. So, I just want to quickly flip through them. You read the article to get the whole thing. But I talk about how important it is for us to be putting together design standards for the web work we do and having – because a kind of official design language for the sites that we produce, so that they can be taken on into the future. And many organizations already have like brand guidelines. But unfortunately most of these documents are created with print in mind and don’t really adequately address kind of web issues. So, I really think we need to start producing design standards documents for the web. Things that address, things like layouts, what grid system we’re using, what templates exist for the design elements that we use on our site, how does the layout adapt for different devices, these are kinds of things that don’t exist in traditional brand guidelines and that we need to be producing for the web.

Adjustments to typography, what works in print doesn’t necessarily work typographically online. And yes, okay we can use whichever fonts that we want now, but that can backfire quite horribly, I mean, we had a recent project where the client wanted the same typography that they have in their print guidelines and we always used to be able to fall back on the position of: oh, that’s not possible, you can’t have that, because of the limited fonts. But of course we can now, we can have pretty much any font we want, but it doesn’t – A: it doesn’t mean that font’s going to look good, and B, in this particular case it amounted to something like a 3Mb download, to download the font. So typography is something – we need to think about colour, corporate colour palettes often need tweaking to work on screen, logo usage, all of these things we need to put together as design standards for the site that we produce. The BBC do a great job at this for their GEL: global experience language policy that they’ve got in place, imagery.

Marcus Lillington:
There’s a big overlap there with content strategy.

Paul Boag:
Absolutely, yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
It’s kind of brand related again. It’s really asking questions before you produce something new basically.

Paul Boag:
Imagery is another really important one about setting dimensions, how big are images, how they’re going to be compressed, how you’re going to deal with responsive design, all of these kinds of things, so often sites are ruined, in fact I can think of another site recently, that we launched and I tweeted out about how great it was, and that we’d done the design work to it and then the client had implemented it into their back-end system and they got it working. And they’d uploaded a load of images that were absolutely huge, so it kind of undermined all the wonderful work that we’d done, because the performance sucked. So imagery is another thing.

But also I think when it comes to design, we need to be thinking about who does the design? Who gets to do updates on the site? How much control does the content provider have over inserting design, styling and elements? Can your company – can departments in your company go out and hire any agency they want to work on the website, can they create your own sub-sites, what are your polices and standards on this kind of thing?

Then there’s build standards, which tackles things like browser support, device support, your accessibility policy and we’re not just talking about AA compliances, we’ve already said in the show. What libraries and frameworks are you using, because so many sites, right, I’ve come across before, where the main site uses jQuery, and then there’s some sub-site that was built by somebody else that uses a different JavaScript library and so it ends up being a real mess. What about third-party tools? I’ve seen sites which host some video on YouTube and some on Vimeo and some on different systems like that.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah.

Paul Boag:
So there is all that kind of stuff to think about. Map functionality, blah, blah, blah. So having – there is also a need for a document which sets out your build standards what those are going to be, what your policies are over that kind of stuff. And then as you said Marcus, there’s content standards. Who your content creator is going to be? Who decides – who gets to access and add stuff to the site and what parts of the site can they add? Do those content creators need time to go training before they can put stuff online and not just training about the content management system, but training about how to write decent web content? How are the content creators going to be judged on whether they’re performing or producing good content? Is it written into their job description that they’ve got to update content, and so the list goes on.

Then there’s content workflow issues. So if somebody uploads a piece of content, does it need approval before it goes live, who approves it, how do they decide whether it’s appropriate content or not, right? And somebody has got to make a decision about, yes this piece of content can go live or no it’s not able to go live and what standards do they use to make that decision? Because if you don’t have those things in place, then it turns into arguments. You’ve got to have processes in place for this kind of stuff.

Then there’s kind of content style. What style and tone of voice is the site written in? What personality does it have, what grammar does it use, how does it deal with numbers? Should numbers be written numerically or written? This is boring-arse stuff, but it creates a consistent view across the site. How a heading is written, how a brand name is written, is Boagworld, one word or is it two words? Does it capitalize the W halfway through or not? Formatting using – can you use lists and pull-out quotes? Content structure about front-loading things, making it scan-able, having short sentences, bans terminology, you cannot use acronyms, you cannot use marketing speak, cannot use jargon. Wow! Content removal, who is ….

Marcus Lillington:
That stuff is not boring. I don’t think.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, but a lot of people do think it is, and a lot of people don’t think this stuff needs writing down.

Marcus Lillington:
Oh, yeah. That should definitely be, a good style guide will include that.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
You know, about whether you – how you write numbers, all that kind of thing. But it doesn’t go as far as – and it also might be different for print than it might be online.

Paul Boag:
Yes.

Marcus Lillington:
That’s one of the main issues.

Paul Boag:
Absolutely. Content removal is another big one.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes.

Paul Boag:
Who is responsible for removing content and what are your criteria for deciding whether content should be removed and how it should be removed? Does removal mean, removing it entirely offline or does it mean removing from navigation or from search or from both? Is there some kind of way of archiving pages, is there some way of indicating to a user that a page has been archived?

Then is social media standards, right. Things like people, employees, can employees tweet, or, you know, or do they – are there limits to what they can and cannot sound like? Can they talk about their jobs, can they talk about their employer? Do they have to have a disclaimer in their profile saying their opinions are their own? Answering these questions, is not only good for the organization, but also it provides a sense of security to the employee, it might feel like that, oh, am I allowed to say that kind of thing?

Then it’s different networks, what is your policy about different networks? How are you using Twitter and Facebook, are they being used differently? Should you have pages on Flickr, YouTube, Pinterest or any of the others. There are a lot of different networks and what are you doing, have you got policies in place to monitor and to maintain stuff that you put up on these networks, or are they just going to kind of fall apart over time, if that make sense?

Dealing with conflicts, how are you going to deal with conflicts? What’s your policy of dealing with conflicts? Do you deal with them in a public forum or do you deal with them privately? What is your policy if someone starts posting inaccurate or untrue comments about you? What if they libel you, how do you respond to that?

Marcus Lillington:
Swear.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, swear! So I guess – I set out to write something about the kind of standards you need to have in place as an organization and it turned out to be the longest blog post I’ve ever written. And it …

Marcus Lillington:
It does go on.

Paul Boag:
… it does go on and on and on, yeah. And it made me realize quite how much you have to think about beyond just the build of your website. And we focus so much, don’t we, on what functionality it’s going to have and user journeys and design look and feel, all of those kinds of things, which obviously are massively, massively important. But we have focused on such a tiny area of the whole web design picture. And I really would encourage you to checkout this post, apparently according to my site’s wonderful stats it will take you 13 minutes to read and it’s 13 minutes that I think any – certainly any website owners should definitely, definitely read. But also I think if you’ve got clients and you’re advising them on their website, you need to understand this stuff and you need to be making recommendations about it too.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah.

Paul Boag:
So checkout the post, hopefully you will find it useful and yeah, let’s move on from that and look at Marcus’ – this week apparently – totally un-web-design-related post.

Dave Grohl, filmmaker

Dave Grohl

Marcus talks about how Dave Grohl shows us that a change in career is possible.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, today’s Marcus post is actually – it relates to the fact that last night lying in bed I was just flicking through the telly channels like you do.

Paul Boag:
I love the process that goes into the selection of your posts, because it’s completely – yeah, it popped into my head.

Marcus Lillington:
I was watching a programme about Fleetwood Mac, about the history of Fleetwood Mac – the band – which obviously most people in the world, certainly people of my age and older, know and love their songs, they’re hugely famous. But also the fact that I used to be a musician, I’m interested in all the studio stuff. And I was – and they record it, they certainly recorded Rumours and Tusk and the big, big albums, that they’re known for at a studio called Sound City, in Los Angeles.

Paul Boag:
Right.

Marcus Lillington:
And there are, like, pictures of them in the studio and there is the engineer talking to all in the studio and it’s like great music is made in this place. I then, flicking through for, oh, what can I talk about today, and I find – again on BBC News, as always – Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl turns documentary director, I was thinking what the hell has this got to do with anything?

Paul Boag:
Yes.

Marcus Lillington:
But I happen to like the Foo Fighters, I like Dave Grohl, I think he has a great voice, etcetera, etcetera. And it’s like oh, he has made a film about Sound City Studios in Los Angeles.

Paul Boag:
Okay.

Marcus Lillington:
And about the history of it and all the people who have recorded there, like Nirvana, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Johnny Cash, Neil Young, Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty, Metallica, Rage Against the Machine, Arctic Monkeys, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. And then I thought well this is – and I guess, the point of this show to a certain extent – our show – is to say this is an interesting article, which it kind of is, I mean, I’m sure the film is what’s the interesting thing here, but also there is a very, very kind of …

Paul Boag:
Tenuous link, I feel coming on…

Marcus Lillington:
… tenuous link to what I was talking about early on.

Paul Boag:
Right.

Marcus Lillington:
Which is about following your bliss, following your dreams, that kind of thing.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
This guy is a drummer, he is then one of the greatest front men, lead singers in the world after just being the bloke at the back hitting the drums, and now he’s started making films.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
So all right, I mean, he is hugely wealthy, so he can do what the hell he likes, but he is following “work dreams”, if you like.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
He has now started making films, which is like really cool, which kind of relates to what we were talking about earlier and yes it’s a …

Paul Boag:
It’s a really interesting area, isn’t it? Because you’ve got to say if you’re – if you do manage to do the stuff that you love, then you put so much more energy into it.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah, I mean, I’ve always said to my kids when they’re talking about what they should be studying at school, I’ve always said do the things you’re interested in because they’re the ones you’ll get the good grades in, and really unless you’re going into something that’s very specific, I suppose like being a .NET developer, but then you need a specific qualification for that. But for the majority of things, if you’ve got three As, it doesn’t really matter in what …

Paul Boag:
No.

Marcus Lillington:
… that will be viewed kind of in a better way than three Cs by that employer.

Paul Boag:
By something you didn’t really care about.

Marcus Lillington:
I’m making a huge –

Paul Boag:
No, you’re right. I can see where you’re coming from.

Marcus Lillington:
And also you will finish it, you will do it and you will enjoy it, blah, blah, blah, it’s actually – again, it’s related to what we were talking about in work, I mean, when you’re at school your work is the things that you’re studying. So do the stuff you enjoy.

Paul Boag:
It’s funny, Marcus.

Marcus Lillington:
Because you’ll do it better.

Paul Boag:
Because I’m not always sure about how far that should go? Because you do see some situations where it doesn’t work, right? So the one that brings to mind is Eddie Izzard, right? I love Eddie Izzard as a comedian. I think he is amazing, he is very, very funny, but he got it into his head he wanted to be an actor and he is an okay actor.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah, I would say he is okay.

Paul Boag:
But he is not – he doesn’t really – it doesn’t work as well.

Marcus Lillington:
But can you imagine the difference between being a stand up? I think being a standup comic, it’s probably one of the hardest jobs in the world.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
And it’s like – then he thinks, well, I quite like acting as well.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
That’s – I much prefer doing acting, I’m going to acting. Even though he is much better as a stand up, I kind of understand why you wouldn’t want to do that for the rest of your life. You’d die, wouldn’t you?

Paul Boag:
But, I guess, I was – in my head, I was thinking you tend to be better at the things that you’re most passionate about, while in his case he is not.

Marcus Lillington:
I don’t know whether that is the case. He might love stand up, but just thought, it’s just too much.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
Or, I’m not earning as much as I’d want to be.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, you don’t know what the reasons are, but you do get – this “follow the dreams” mentality, has its limits because you end up with the X factor first round.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah.

Paul Boag:
These people …

Marcus Lillington:
Not that I’ve ever watched this, but I know what’s coming.

Paul Boag:
Oh, yeah. It’s just, it’s awful, it’s a train wreck –

Marcus Lillington:
They should all be shot.

Paul Boag:
These people shouldn’t be following their dreams. They should be recognizing that their dreams are a fantasy. So there is a line here at the whole kind of “follow your dream” and he is …

Marcus Lillington:
There are three things.

Paul Boag:
… what’s this guy, I’ve forgotten the guy’s name in your article?

Marcus Lillington:
Dave Grohl.

Paul Boag:
But, it might be a shit documentary.

Marcus Lillington:
I think it’s trying to say that no it isn’t, it’s really cool –

Paul Boag:
Oh, okay.

Marcus Lillington:
… it’s obviously, but it is not just the quality of the documentary he is – I mean, he is getting to – basically, everyone he goes and interviews, he says right, let’s just jam …

Paul Boag:
Right.

Marcus Lillington:
… which is – and people like Paul McCartney, getting him just to make shit up on the fly, so that’s kind of cool.

Paul Boag:
And I guess the other thing that he has done which is very clever, which I think is a good way of this “follow your dream” thing is, he hasn’t suddenly gone and become an architect. He has naturally progressed, his first documentary is about music.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes.

Paul Boag:
You know, there is a transition there. And certainly in my career as I shifted from one thing to another, to whatever my latest interest is, it has been related to what I’ve done in the past. And I think that’s a really important factor in the “follow your dream” thing is – that’s great, if your dream is related to what you’re doing now.

Marcus Lillington:
Very interesting thing, you used the term architecture there, because, as I mentioned, Wayne Hemingway who runs – or owned Red or Dead …

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
… which were kind of fashion, all the way through the 80s and 90s. They’re now doing architecture, they’re building places.

Paul Boag:
Really?

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah and that was brilliant. I mean, I found that he was a little bit too full of himself, that’s what annoyed me about him and yet whilst at the same time being kind of right-on left wing, …

Paul Boag:
Right.

Marcus Lillington:
… we – I can’t remember the example, I think it was when France were doing the nuclear testing, they wouldn’t let any of the French press into their catwalk thing …

Paul Boag:
Right, okay.

Marcus Lillington:
And basically it turned out to be the best publicity they could have ever done.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
A good story from that point of view. But then he kind of moved in – brilliant pictures, probably worth looking up – that he found these houses that had just been built in Swindon and he could put the picture up and he says, “what does that look like?” and I just said – to myself – it’s a prison. And then they put all the fences and spotlights round it. And they’d basically taken that to the developers in Swindon.

Paul Boag:
Right.

Marcus Lillington:
And said this – you shouldn’t be building houses like this. Anyway, that didn’t go well, but they’ve built – they’ve since designed places up in the North East that are kind of more community minded, places to play, places for kids to grow up, nice places and that didn’t look like prisons, which is kind of cool. But the thing people like him, and I’ve seen – conferences often wheel out the guy who has made millions from whatever.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
And it comes down to three things, luck, determination, and talent. You have to have talent.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
You can’t be the person on the first round of the X Files and expect to do ….

Paul Boag:
X files?

Marcus Lillington:
X Files? X Factor. Oh, blimey, showing my age! Ooh, did you see the end of Fringe?

Paul Boag:
Oh, yes I did but we can’t talk about that in case there are people that haven’t seen it.

Marcus Lillington:
Okay. Yeah, Fair enough.

Paul Boag:
We’ll talk about it later.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah.

Paul Boag:
Anyway, yes it is a fascinating subject. I do agree. The luck thing is always interesting as well, because I look back at my career and I think there have been points where I have been hugely lucky.

Marcus Lillington:
Ditto, massively.

Paul Boag:
Yeah. But is there also a degree where you have to see those opportunities and grasp them?

Marcus Lillington:
Well, I can give you an example of – yeah – no, maybe yes, but not always. Breathe, the band that broke back in the 80s, we had released, I don’t know seven singles in the U.K., lots of marketing push and never broke through. We released one single in America, did nothing at all. We then released Hands to Heaven in America and the American chart is made up of 50% sales and 50% airplay. So if you get played a lot you get – you go up the billboard charts.

And obviously we weren’t selling anything to start off with because nobody knew us, and we were getting kind of plays on some small radio stations, but what broke us was a guy in – I think in San Francisco, no it started off as a Mormon station in Salt Lake City, a small one, basically this guy put it on what they call heavy rotation.

Paul Boag:
Right.

Marcus Lillington:
And when – and this was based on the fact that people were ringing up and asking for the song. “Can you play it again?” So we ended up going on a heavy rotation and this was a silver station and then a big platinum station in San Francisco, guy heard the song and thought: my eldest is going to love that. And exactly the same thing happened there. As soon as the big platinum station put it on heavy rotation, we got enough of a push that everyone on the West coast did the same thing,

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
…. and you start to sell blah, blah, blah and …

Paul Boag:
There was nothing you could have done on that.

Marcus Lillington:
I couldn’t have done anything about that at all, it was down to this guy going: ooh, I like that song.

Paul Boag:
That reminds me very much of the book Tipping Point, the Malcolm Gladwell book, where he talks about the revival of Hush Puppy shoes and it was all to do with one group of friends at one night club that got into them for some reason, and then there was a fashion designer there that decided to pick up on them and so it went on.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah.

Paul Boag:
But with Tipping Point there was always this kind of underlying message in it that you can manufacture these kinds of things, but you can’t, can you? It is – there is a big chunk of luck in it.

Marcus Lillington:
There is no way we could have manufactured it what happen there.

Paul Boag:
No, you’re right.

Marcus Lillington:
I mean, don’t get me wrong, all the radio stations in America are – what’s the right word to use here, encouraged to play certain records over others.

Paul Boag:
Yes.

Marcus Lillington:
But we were being encouraged in just as much as any other new act.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
So, it’s still luck at the end of the day.

Paul Boag:
All very interesting.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah.

Paul Boag:
Anyway, I think we’ve waffled on enough for one week.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes.

Paul Boag:
Do you have a joke to finish us off on?

Marcus Lillington:
I do, and saying as we were taking about Dave Grohl, who started his life off as Nirvana’s drummer, I’ve got a drummer joke.

Paul Boag:
A drummer joke, okay.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah. So a drummer sick of all the drummer jokes, decides to change his instrument. After some thought, he decides on the accordion, so he goes to the music store and says to the owner, “I’d like to look at the accordions please.” The owner gestures to a shelf in the corner and says, “all our accordions are over there”. After browsing, the drummer says, “I think I would like the big red one in the corner”. Store owner looks to him and says, “you’re a drummer, aren’t you?” The drummer, crestfallen, says, “how did you know?” The store owner says, “that big red accordion is a radiator”.

Paul Boag:
I didn’t even know there was a thing about drummers, are drummers considered thick of something then?

Marcus Lillington:
They might be. Can all musicians and drummers come to the stage and things like that. So that’s one thing, yes, thick and not musicians.

Paul Boag:
Right. Okay. I see. Right.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes.

Paul Boag:
Fair enough. Well, on this podcast we’re not prejudiced against drummers. So if you’re a drummer, you’re more than welcome to continue listening to the show. For everybody else go and check out boagworld.com/season/5 and make suggestions about posts that we can cover. We do love getting your suggestions mainly because it means I don’t have to do any work, which is always a bonus. Anything else you want to say?

Marcus Lillington:
No, this one’s got on for plenty long enough.

Paul Boag:
So we will stop now.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes.

“Blindfold Lawyer With Golden Scale Of Justice” image courtesy of Bigstock.com

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