Designing for the gaps

Paul Boag

This week on the Boagworld Show we are joined by Josh Clark to explore how users are increasingly falling between the gaps in our design processes.

Skip to the discussion or this week’s links.

This episode of the Boagworld show is sponsored by Media Temple and Harvest. Please support the show by checking them out.

Paul: Hello and welcome to the pod cast for all those involved in designing, developing and running websites on a daily basis. My name is Paul. Joining me as always is Marcus. Hello Marcus.

Marcus: Hello Paul.

Paul: And introducing this week on the show, Josh Clark. Hello Josh.

Josh: Why hello, I feel I should be doing something special with my voice but you’re so much better at it.

Paul: Everything sounds better if you’re British.

Josh: That’s really true, that’s certainly how we sit. It also makes you vaguely evil and villain-esque.

Paul: Oh, see now I thought it just made us sound more intelligent, but now we just been reduced to villains, have we?

Josh: An evil genius villain, if you like.

Paul: To be honest I’m quite happy with that.

Josh: I thought you might be.

Paul: I can live with that. I just need a cat to stroke.

Josh: Don’t we all?

Marcus: Let’s not go down that route.

Paul: Hello Josh, we’ve had you on the show before have we?

Josh: No. This is my very first time. I’m all a tingle. I’m happy to be here.

Paul: Will of doing it since, we were saying before the show we reckon we’ve been doing it since about 2005/2006. Is that right Marcus?

Marcus: 2005 because that’s why I was going on about its our 10 year anniversary. But I don’t know exactly when, that would take effort to work that out.

Paul: It’s only a quick Google search, it’s not exactly difficult. Let’s see if I can do it. So should be just on the website.

Marcus: Oh what, the first episode would have a date on it?

Paul: Yes it would have a date on it wouldn’t it? A release date.

Marcus: You’re so organised Paul.

Paul: Well you say that, but now I’m actually looking for it, because I have to go through goodness knows how many… Oh ‘Podcast presents’, oh that’s the last one of the classic shows. Oh it’s alright I need to go back about 200 pages. This won’t take long.

Josh: Ask Google, how long have I been prattling on? That’s like asking a conversational interface.

Marcus: How to kill Google in one quick step.

Paul: Yes, that’s enough to make any super computer explode. How long have you been prattling on?

Anyway, I’m disappointed in this that we’ve not had you on the show before because you are obviously the ultimate guest.

Josh: Well that’s right of course, until next week or the next episode when I would be the penultimate guest I suppose. But at the moment yes I am the ultimate guest.

Paul: At the moment you’re the favourite guest for this show.

Marcus: You’re our best guest today.

Paul: Yes. So Josh tell us a little bit about yourself for those that don’t know.

Josh: Well I run a small studio called Big Medium that is so small that it’s actually just me. But I bring together teams of people to do big multidevice mobile responsive design projects. So I let the design of the TechCrunch website, of Entertainment Weekly’s mobile site, of TimeInc corporate site, we just did a really fun project with O’Reilly Media to work through a redesign of their site. So basically I work with a bunch of really terrific indie designers and developers who come together for a few months and then disappear into the night. So in addition to the actual design and consulting work I also do a fair amount of writing and speaking and actually really big news for me as we speak is that my new book, Designing for Touch, comes out this week, or goes on sale this week and ships next week. So very exciting. A new book from A Book Apart about the new physicals considerations that we have to bring to our interfaces and the idea that it’s not just how your pixels look any more but how they literally feel in the hand, their ergonomics of the touchscreen design.

Paul: I had no idea that you had a book coming out. It was almost like we planned it, but we didn’t.

Josh: That’s right, that’s what makes me part of being one of the ultimate guests, just delivering these little surprises. I’ll see what else I can do.

Paul: It makes me feel like some kind of late-night chat show where celebrities come on to pimp their film or book or whatever. I am now the new Graham Norton. Which means nothing to you.

Josh: Very nice.

Paul: Right, yes that’s really interesting because there was something about being an American design agency place where you get to work with clients that we all know and see is really glamorous. Like you’ve done work with Tech Crunch, and I’ve done work with Slough Web Design Weekly. See, it’s just not as exciting. We don’t have as exciting clients over here I don’t think.

Josh: I am fortunate in that sense to be in New York where there is so much media and advertising although Tech crunch is placed in San Francisco. Here in New York there is a sense of that, for me at least which has put me at the centre of a lot of opportunities.

Paul: Is the same with the movies as well isn’t it, when I go to New York it’s like, oh, these are all places in the movies. Wow this must be really magical and exciting because it’s in the movies.

Josh: It doesn’t go away, I still get that, seeing film production happening. Who is it? What is it?

Paul: And inevitably pretty much everywhere you turn in New York something has been blown up in some movie or other.

Josh: And unfortunately occasionally, sometimes New York.

Paul: Well yes, yes that is true. But Marcus you are going to say something?

Marcus: I was going to say that all American place names and road names sound great as well, and no British ones too. Like you’ve got Route 66 and we’ve got the A27.

Paul: But we’ve got Notting Hill, that sounds okay.

Marcus: Just about, yes, I suppose.

Paul: There’s a few, but not as many I know.

Marcus: Basingstoke doesn’t sound as good, does it?

Paul: I am coming to New York next week, Josh. We might meet up, that would be good. I like that idea.

Josh: Yes we could go look at some film locations something.

Paul: So had to get doing what you do these days then?

Josh: Oh wow, a long story. I started before the web really came online in a mainstream way, working in a television production as a producer of historical documents for American public television. That was what I was doing in the early 90s. One of the really remarkable things that struck me about the web right off the bat of course is that it’s amazing democratisation of opportunity for publishing and the design. And while I was in this very constrained environment of public television where funding was difficult, where opportunities were rare to get this constrained channel as a young man in my 20s, it seemed like forever before I got the money and the opportunity to put my very own documentary out there. But then the web came on and I was like, wow, look at this. It’s an entirely new format that’s yet to be explained, a new kind of storytelling where anyone can tell a story. And so I started creating these little web documentaries with text and photos which I called Twisted Freaks of History. So we are stories about Henry Ford and Kellogg the cereal Titan, and all kinds of strange predilections. So that really captured my imagination.

I recently came across the floppy disk of Twisted Freaks of History, which is now defunct of course, but I have this physical artefact of those early days.

Paul: Do you have any way of getting the data off of it?

Josh: No I don’t. I don’t have a floppy disk and I assume it’s dead. Remember floppy disks would just like keel over? All of a sudden working one day and then just…

Paul: Oh wow, that’s a really interesting way. I need to instigate this is a question I ask everyone that comes on the show, because everyone always has such interesting backgrounds as to how they’ve got into the web, and it’s fascinating.

Josh: It is interesting, for people of our advance age Paul…

Paul: Hang on a minute, don’t drag me into this!

Josh: I’m sorry young man.

Paul: That’s better, thank you.

Josh: But you know, when there wasn’t any idea of any training or education around this, it was just human/computer interface things for entirely different models for something like the web, there was no notion of training for this so I think that at least the first generations of web designers by necessity came at it from odd angles. But it had a little bit of an unsettling feeling that I was getting old when I visited Drexel University in Philadelphia. And I am sure a lot of schools have a program like this, but they had a history of web design programs as part of their interaction design program. And I was like, well I guess we have been at this for a while now, and it’s actually history to them. Not only are students learning the craft in a formal way but it’s actually old enough to have a history behind it.

Paul: That’s just fascinating. We are the history of web design. Depressing but true.

Josh: Yes right, crusty artefacts.

Paul: So Marcus you’ve just found our first episode?

Marcus: I took such a long time. Oh, you’ll just Google it. Anyway, the 23rd August.

Paul: Not long then, oh, in fact it’s gone! Shows what I know. So yes, talking of history you can’t get much more history than that.

Josh: Now do you have it on a floppy disk though?

Paul: No, you see now we are not that cool.

Marcus: I’ve got floppy disks back home with music stuff on from way back in the day.

Paul: I’ve thrown them all. I can see when a piece of media is on its way out.

Josh: Marcus, can you open them? Do you have a drive someplace?

Marcus: Yes I bought a drive because I decided I ought to dig out some of the early notated stuff that I put together on the old Atari computer because I thought I could probably open that in Logic. But it meant buying a floppy disk drive that I could plug into my Mac, but yes it worked. Logic displays it quite weirdly and it takes a long time to tidy it all up, but yes it all still works. I could throw them away now, but I still haven’t.

Paul: That’s amazing.

Josh: That’s the real challenge of what we do, is how ephemeral it is. It’s not just a grand sense where everybody’s like, let’s just throw that out, what we laboured over last year, let’s just throw it out and replace it with something new, but just the fact that we can’t even keep the old stuff very reliably.

Paul: It’s really interesting I just popped open the hard drive on my computer and the very first folder that comes up is incompatible software. Because of upgraded to OS X El Capitan and it’s gone, oh I can’t run that so I’m going to hide it away. Eventually we will become incompatible. I can already feel it happening. This week is a classic example, right, this week I had to sit down and did some design work because that’s my background, I come from a design background. A client wanted a customer journey map and some empathy maps made look pretty so they could put them up on posters and things, it was my great idea. And so when I sat down to do it, it was like to do I remember how to design? And suddenly every time I started to do some design it looked so dated, because I felt back all the old tricks that I used to use and things have moved on. So yes, I am incompatible now.

Marcus: Bevels? And drop shadows?

Paul: Yes, drop shadows and clouds. Everything had clowns in full while that’s how you describe the Internet, it’s like cloudy.

Josh: What’s the outlook for the Internet? Oh, cloudy.

Paul: It was the superhighway, wasn’t it?

Marcus: The information superhighway.

Josh: It could have been the Internet Autobahn if Volkswagen were involved. But we don’t want Volkswagen doing much with that.

Paul: No. Although I feel the whole of the Internet has got a little bit of that Volkswagen-emissions scandal behind it. On the surface everything looks great but deep down it’s a big old mess. I think that describes Internet quite well really.

Josh: That’s right, certainly the state of my social media accounts. Look how cheerful I am.

Paul: Yes, while inside I’m just rocking back and forth and cry myself to sleep.

Josh: I am just dying inside every day.

Marcus: Caroline got the letter from Audi, her car is one of the bad cars.

Paul: Ohh. So what does that mean?

Marcus: That’s what I said to her, and she said I don’t know.

Paul: So the letter doesn’t say begin to give you a new car, it just says your car is shit.

Marcus: It says, watch this space, basically. But she does her ridiculously low car tax on her car. And obviously incorrectly so.

Paul: That’s quite cool actually, as a consumer I should be very pleased with that. They take all the blame yet you benefit from the low road tax.

Marcus: While still spouting filth into the atmosphere.

Josh: It lets her be an outlaw, except now she’s little bit of a bad ass, excuse my French.

Paul: Exactly, I like that thinking. I went to watch the film Martian this week, I don’t know if you’ve seen that.

Josh: I have, did you like it?

Paul: Oh, superb. What really surprised me about it was that it was quite humorous in places and there was this great moment where he convinces himself that because he’s going to effectively appropriate another spaceship that is on Mars, and because anything outside of national borders is covered under maritime law, he therefore convinces himself that he is the first space pirate. So it’s really quite a funny film, quite enjoyable.

Marcus: Talking about films, I know we’re trying to move on but, I saw a new film by the Coen brothers called Hail Caesar, which has got George Clooney in it playing a 50s super icon actor. It looks really funny, have you seen that?

Paul: No I haven’t.

Josh: It sounds great.

Marcus: Okay, I was just looking for a tip as to whether I should go not.

Josh: Yes. With no knowledge based on the fact except for that description, I’d say yes.

Paul: George Clooney, Coen brothers and there is a kind of Caesar, and 1950s actors, it sounds about right actually.

Marcus: Is about this guy who is a fixer and they lose George Clooney. He gets stolen or something, he’s an alcoholic. It sounds like a great film.

Paul: It does sound very good. Anyway we must move on.

Marcus: And we’ve got Bond!

Paul: Oh for crying out loud.

Marcus: Bond out today I believe.

Paul: That doesn’t really do it for me.

Marcus: Bond surely, is your type of film? Lots of car crashes and explosions and violence?

Paul: Is just got so many product placements in. Have you not ever noticed? When we went to see the Martian there was all the trailers and adverts before it, essentially pretty much everyone had some reference to Bond in. There was this great one for a watchmaker, where it had seen from James Bond that they had opposite made specifically for it where Q hands Bond this really expensive high-end watch and Bond says what does it do? And Q says, it tells the time. Which I think was a secret dig at Apple.

Josh: It’s funny, the Bond films are obviously incredibly appealing and yet they are about everything that is deeply wrong about society. Misogynist, violent, Daniel Craig was just saying in an interview last week how much he enjoys it, but this guy is awful. What a horrible man. And yet here we are 50 years later, still watching it.

Marcus: At least his little bit pained and damaged these days. Back in the old days he wore it’s like a badge, didn’t he?

Josh: Yes the Roger Moore days especially.

Paul: Anyway. Talking of product placement, let’s move on to our sponsor which is Media Temple. I do just want to quickly mention Media Temple because they are so incredibly supportive not just of this podcast but of the whole web community. Like I said many times before, you can barely go to an event without Media Temple sponsoring it in some way.

They got a great range of hosting solutions, so just to give you a quick rundown of the breadth of what they offer. They’ve got WordPress hosting which is great obviously further WordPress designers and developers. See how quick I am and clever working that out? They’ve got shared hosting which has got better architecture and support and it’s great for bloggers and businesses and designers and all those kinds of things. Then it’s got its professional grade virtual private server hosting which you can have with a without a control panel, depending on how you prefer to work, which is great for your bigger businesses, your e-commerce sites, your resellers if you resell hosting to your clients and web developers. And then they’ve also got Amazon the AWS cloud hosting which gets the most out of your Amazon cloud fully managed account, which is managed by Cis Admin as well. You can get a special discount as a Boagworld listener using the promo code BOAG for 25% of your web hosting. You just go to and you enter the promo code upon signup.

Josh what are you pinging to me?

Marcus: He’s pimping codes for his book.

Paul: He’s got a discount code for his book?

Josh: I don’t mean to hijack this other product placement, we can talk about that later but I do want to share all these great discounts that you are offering. So let’s offer discounts my new book too?

Paul: Okay let’s just repeat the Media Temple once they don’t feel they missed out. That promo code again was BOAG and that gets you 25% of your web hosting. Just go to for that. Then if you want to get hold of Designing for Touch, which is Josh’s book—Josh thank you for doing this, this is really nice of you— which is a Book Apart book, and we’ll put a link in the show notes to that. You can use the code DFT4BOAG and that gives you 15% off the book until the end of November. So if you are part of the long tail that listens to this late, hard luck suckers, you should have listened to it when it comes out.

Josh: They you go is giving away money on your show.

Paul: I know, it’s good isn’t it?

Josh: If you want money – Boagworld it’s just rains here, rain’s money.

Paul: Just to be clear, I don’t give out money. Josh’s opinions do not represent the host of the show.

Josh: You can’t afford not to use Media Temple and Designing for Touch offers, you can’t afford not to.

Paul: You’re much better at this than I am.

Josh: The ultimate guest.

Paul: Ultimate guest.

Designing for the gaps with Josh Clark

Paul: So let’s talk about what you’re actually on the show to talk about shall we Josh?

Josh: You mean it wasn’t about the Bond movies?

Paul: Wasn’t the Bond movies, wasn’t your book, wasn’t anything we talked about so far.

Marcus: It was the book, come on.

Paul: No, I didn’t know about the book.

Josh: A happy coincidence.

Paul: Honestly it is. I seem insincere, I sound like a liar now don’t I? I’m actually really excited about that because I’d really like to read that book. I’ve got so many books I want to read. Seriously, I need to take a year off and just read.

Marcus: Do it Paul.

Josh: I think there’s so much the designers, anybody is trying to think about what’s next for these things, it’s sometimes hard to give ourselves permission to do that. It’s part of our job to sit back and think and play little bit and I would say that’s the thing I struggle with the most, is giving myself permission to do those things. It’s not an indulgence, it’s something that makes your work and your craft better. But I agree finding the time and mostly permission to do it is so hard.

Paul: You’ve got to earn money as well, that’s the other problem. And also if I’m going to sit back and do anything it’s going to be playing Assassin’s Creed really. My level of commitment is very low it has to be set.

Josh: There you go, and now Victorian London, you’re all set.

Paul: It’s so good as well, for once I’m going around the city and I know my way around. It’s brilliant.

Marcus: It’s so not true Paul.

Paul: Well there’s little bits of it I know.

Marcus: Whenever you and I go to London Paul, I am dad.

Paul: I go up to London all the time without you Marcus, and I cope perfectly well. It’s just that when you’re there I go into mindless child mode and just follow around with you.

So yes, what we originally getting Josh on the show for was that you talk a lot Josh about this idea of designing for the gaps. And I’ve heard you speak on this and it really got my mind going. Rather than sit down and read a book about this, I just get people on the show to explain it to me and then I don’t need to read the book. So do you want to give the potted version on what designing for the gap is about? What you have in your mind when you talk about that?

Josh: I think obviously in terms of web design, just a few years ago there weren’t these gaps. We just designed for the desktop. There was only ever one interface for the web and it was called our desktop or laptop. And then mobile came and blew up the whole thing and reminded us that the web was for all kinds of different devices and we temporarily broke it by fixing it to a single kind of computer device. And so we have this crisis of inopportunity over the last few years saying oh right, we got to redo everything, make our sites and services and information fit all these screens. And a few years on in responsive design we are doing pretty well, we’re trying to get a hang of it, we’ve figured it out pretty well at least in broad strokes the best way to handle apps versus web and all these different sort of screen sizes. So we solved the problem in a way from the design perspective but then on the other end just to civilians using these things we’ve got a new problem, which is that we are often trapped in between these gadgets, because with switching among the more the time. There was a study about a year ago in the UK that found for a typical weekday evening the average Brit changes devices 21 times in an hour. Moving between phones to TV to laptop to tablet, picking up flipping around, and just in terms of time for a mobile device, this is a sense of how much digital really has infused our lives. On average we look at our phones three hours and 15 minutes a day. That’s about 20% of our waking time, spent staring at these little glowing rectangles, approximately 200 times a day.

Paul: I don’t want to know that. I know it’s true but I don’t want someone telling me that number.

Josh: As we switch between these devices is obviously the case that when multitasking, well actually not doing different tasks but moving in between. A Google study found that 90% of people complete tasks across devices. So for example about two thirds of us frequently shop across devices. Typically starting on the phone, finding out what you want to do and then completing the purchase or completing the shopping session on another device which is a larger one. The way that we stitch these together, these are big numbers, this is most of us using devices this way, but the way we stitch them together are hacks that we put together. The most popular way to stitch together these experiences, to leap this gap is the Google search box. So basically go to the new thing, start from scratch. Going into the Google thing, search for a site and start a brand-new session. But I think the other ways that are going to sound really familiar is that we are constantly emailing stuff to ourselves. Oh I’ve got this on my phone and email it to myself so I can get it on my computer. It’s the lamest thing but we all do it. The popularity of it, the texting to especially to another person. I’m standing right next you Paul but I’m going to send it all the way up into space, remember the PalmPilot? It was the kind of thing that still feel incredibly magical right now but you would just been your contact information to the person sitting next you using old school infrared. That was the only time it was ever fun to set a meeting, using a PalmPilot. And we’ve lost that ability in a sense. All the amazing things that our fancy smart phones can do in terms of speaking to devices on the other side of the planet, we’ve lost a little bit of that immediacy sharing information among devices that are in the same room. Whether that’s yours and mine or my own. So the opportunity to think about here is not just, how do we present information in these silo devices but how do we enable the flow of information and again behaviour and action from one device to another, so we can move easily back and forth and have a single experience instead of what feels like a set of fragmented experiences.

Paul: Wow. It’s a huge thing when you stop thinking about it and you start thinking about it and you’ve seen some kind of initial steps in this regard in things like handoff between Apple devices and AirDrop and things like that. But on an individual site basis, with pretty pants at it aren’t we really? I mean, a great example was recently I was buying a jumper because it’s gotten colder in Britain because it’s that time of year, and I was buying it via a mobile app. It was failing for some reason, and there was no error message at all, that was asking far too much of it. Actually what was happening was that it was declining my credit card but I didn’t know that on the mobile, because it was crap? So I moved across to the computer and essentially I started again. I had to go to the website, I had to go through the whole process again, and there was no handoff between the two different devices. So that’s the kind of thing I presume you are talking about here.

Josh: Yes that’s right. At the very barest minimum it should at least support shopping sessions across devices. Sometimes you run into these things where apparently the session is specific to a cookie in the browser and not to your account, so even if you are signed in and you put things into your cart on the phone and they aren’t there when you sign in to your account on the desktop. Even just some basic things like that, starting with the assumption that people will often link their session across devices, it’s a good starting mind-set. But yes in terms of how to make that happen, it’s really challenging. One my favourite example is when I think of this is best is that American Express is actually quite good at this and is on one of their digital systems’ voicemail or automated calls. For example if you get a security alert, your usage pattern is a little unusual, your get a phone call. What they want you to do is, we detected these three things and we want you to confirm that you paid them, which is horribly painful when the robot is speaking to on the phone. So what it says is do you want us to send you a text with the link? See press one and it sends you a text and you get a new phone and you hit that and now you’ve got a mobile display with a special link that shows the things and you can say yes, yes, yes. Now that’s still using text to stitch these things together, but it’s a smart recognition that the chances are you’re on your phone right now. Let’s switch to a different modality for this device that will help you do it better.

Thinking about things not just as from screen to screen but from phone to screen, from physical environment, the retail environment has a lot of opportunity here that is really untapped. How do I drift information and behaviours between an online experience and a physical retail experience?

Paul: There’s a really good experience in the UK, there’s a bank called Barclays over here, Barclay’s bank and they have a really well-designed native mobile app which is great. But there are some limitations on what they will allow you to do without speaking to a human being. So every now and again you have to ring the telephone banking system. So you login to your mobile app and you start to do your transaction. You’ve got a question or there’s a limitation to what you can do so you can hit a button which calls them at the call centre. Now in every other bank that I’ve encountered you have to go through the security on the call centre, but you just done that on the mobile app. But Barclays is smart enough to realise that and so it automatically essentially verifies you with the call centre, so they can immediately pull up your account, know what you were doing and respond to you accordingly. In my mind that’s a really great example of this kind of thing.

Josh: Right, and you put your finger on something often there are just these technical silos between these systems. We run into that all the time, just even on these phone systems where you’ve entered all your information and you get the wrap, and then they asked information. Obviously as technologists we know is because these systems are completely isolated from each other which often can reflect political silos within the organisation. It often means that the company is not incentivising those organisations to work together. They may have separate targets and their incentives are actually to ignore the others. It’s obviously a crummy user experience and customer experience. A lot of these things are not just about, as technologists we have some ability to stitch these things together but it’s not just an interface design problem, it’s a service design problem, an organisational design problem. It’s design all the way down, but different kinds of design that have to be confronted and those of us who are designing interfaces at the top sometimes have only limited visibility or access to help solve those problems. But often we can help to surface them which can be useful in itself.

Paul: And that’s the kind of fundamental message were trying to get across in this whole season really, that good user experience design doesn’t finish at the edge of the screen, it gets into governance issues, it gets into organisational issues, technical architectural issues, there were so many different elements that make up a great user experience. Something this part of the problem why have a bit of an issue with the term user experience designer. The idea that there is one individual sitting in a room somewhere designing the user experience just is a bit comical, when actually it’s an organisational wide challenge.

Josh: Oh that’s right, and I think what’s interesting is that we’ve seen this rapid shift in at least awareness if not yet action on that, as a sort of a sense of, oh wait a second, we are. Everyone in an organisation has some impact on what the customer experience is if it’s an organisation that has customers. And there’s a sort of, in a sense, at least beginning to give lip service and hopefully more action to this idea that lets make sure that we giving a great unified front to the people who come to us for our services.

Paul: So how do you begin to tackle that issue? Because it’s so wide-ranging, because it requires often quite substantial organisational changes, because it involves so many different systems working together, so many different people in business silos. I’ve seen some organisations have taken the step of having a Chief User Experience Officer. Is that the way to go? How do you recommend dealing with it?

Josh: I’ve seen that work well and also not well in some places. Ultimately this comes down to internal incentives. If you have an organisation who is normally fairly decentralised into a whole bunch of different areas where the control and influence is essentially spread across the organisation, it can be really difficult for a Chief User Experience Officer or a UX Director to really be able to enforce or corral changes. They can play a supporting role but not a guiding role. But in organisations where there is a really centralised view, where everyone is marching towards the same set of incentives where the executive suite is saying a clear message, then they can say a clear yes, we are behind this, follow this unified idea, user experience.
What that says is that a lot of this really boils down to leadership. So while you can surface some of these problems and say here are some opportunities, if the organisation isn’t built around the right incentives, financial incentives for people who are running these departments then it’s going to be really hard to fix. So take some cultural change and especially some leadership change.

Paul: Incentives, that such a great thing but often I forget to mention them actually. We worked with a client once, I am sure I’ve mentioned them on the show before, not by name but by what they do. They had a website which was run by the marketing department. The marketing department was incentivised basically on the number of leads they generate it. So they have certain targets in terms of the number of leads and then there was a separate sales department that was responsible, and they were incentivised for honey those leads they converted. See how this bizarre situation where the website was run by marketing and so they said before anyone can look at our product, because it was a piece of software that you could try online, a web application, before anyone can try out this web application they have to give us their name, email address and contact details. Which was great for them meeting their incentivised targets of the number of leads that they were creating, but of course 90% of those people weren’t actually ready to be contacted by someone from sales yet. So sales were wasting huge amounts of time calling a noise users who weren’t even ready to be contacted. So that’s the kind of problem you can get from a business silo perspective.

Josh: No it’s really true. It’s often really important for those of us who aren’t reading from the top and find our services more from the grassroots perspective. This idea of incentives, it’s really important for us to remember in terms of persuasion. People would like this better, this will be a better user experience of this will make the developers jobs easier. Nobody cares if it doesn’t align with their personal incentives. So understanding what is the stakeholder’s goal in this, what is success to them, what are the problems they want to solve, how do they get their bonus at the end of the year? Really understanding that and saying, all right, here is how our solution helps you meet your goals, is much more important than he is how this solution meets my goals as a designer.

Paul: Yes absolutely and it’s such a common mistake to make. Are there any other common mistakes that you’re seeing people make in terms of creating these cross platforms, cross discipline systems?

Josh: I think that there are some basic ones, just in terms of things across platforms. Particular think we saw this at the outset of people creating android apps for example, after iPhone apps and saying let’s take all of these design patterns over, or the most important thing is to have a consistent experience across all these platforms. Which is true from a brand perspective but not necessarily from an interaction perspective. As we create experiences in all these different contexts we should be true to the context. Certainly true to the brand but that does not mean a literal representation of these things across, and understanding the variety of contexts the people may be bringing to these. In terms of how do we think about moving among these devices, I think that it’s something that most designers and most product managers have not been thinking about to be honest because the consuming preoccupation has been just how do we get it into all these different devices? As with a lot of things we figured out how it works in a basic way and now we put some polish on it and refined it and you mentioned handoff and continuity and Apple which of course is the ability if you are an iOS user, how it works is that I’m working on email on my phone and this is taking me forever but wait a second I’m sitting right by my laptop. I go over to my laptop and click an icon and the email just comes right over and I can continue there. So in spirit that is very much what I’m talking about, that Apple and android is doing something similar and Samsung has something called Flow for their version of android too?
So we’re starting to see these abilities to shift among devices like this, they’re building the infrastructure, the pipes for this but the interaction is not yet very compelling. We’re still doing a few kind of clunky tapping at screens. I think that mobile introduced is that the interfaces that we are creating, is that we’ve got a new physicality to these interfaces. These are not just to don’t mention screens floating in some abstract space, these are things that are in our hands that are sitting on our desks. So what are the interactions that we can create that are newly physical?

I have a group of people that I regularly meet with and we do these weekend hacking sessions just to play with new interactions. And with my studio mate and friend Barry Legend we put together an example where if you are listening to music on your phone you can just walk over to your laptop or desktop and just shake the music out of your phone and it starts playing on your desktop at the same place. We’ve got the working with photos and URLs and text. Whatever is front and centre on your phone you just go over and shake it into the desktop so don’t have to play around with screens or fuss with menus, it just happens. Treating these devices with their real physicality is one part but also treating the information like it is, like it’s something you can pour out of one device to another and starting to think about that, which I think is very relevant to this emerging Internet of things that we are creating.
And since I’m talking about creating digital interfaces that feel physical, and of course at the other side that is coming on now and hopefully soon they’ll meet in the middle, is physical interfaces or digital systems. Which is little bit like what I mentioned retail stores could be. How do we start to hook up the retail experience so it becomes an interface for all of the digital information that is otherwise unavailable in stores? Reviews, where things are made, how people who make things are treated by the company, things that might influence your purchase decision but that are locked up and unavailable in the physical space.

Paul: Yes because to some degree you’re already beginning to see those kinds of things hacked together by users. For example when I’m in a store I will inevitably go to Amazon to look at a review of the thing that I’m thinking about buying. Which is a bodged together version of that, isn’t it?

Josh: Yes, and often the store, the online store, you’re not going to separate place like Amazon if you’re going to a retailer, they don’t often have reviews on their own store, or they aren’t available in the retail place. But part of that I think knows to often that these are separate technologies and often separate departments. I’ve worked with some big retailers where their online system, inventory control, everything about the online store, is like it’s a whole different company from the retail experience. So while they are now trying to retrofit, as they should that is one company, one brand, the expectation of the guest of the customer is that whether I am buying on the website or buying in the store, it’s all the same. So it should be a possibility that I can order it on the website and pick it up in the store, but it turns out logistically that it can be incredibly challenging.

Paul: Do you think is also a degree where the problem is in our own specialisations? There are weird people like you and me that abroad generalists that are interested in a lot of things but more and more people are specialising down, so there are people listening to this going, whoa, hang on a minute I don’t know anything about retail stores so I’m not going to be involved in those kinds of decisions of thinking about those kinds of things. Or even on a more basic level, there is one gap that we haven’t talked about, which is a gap between services or channels. So for example I am a web designer I’ve designed website and I’m not thinking about the social media channels or how they fit into it. So is there a problem here that we are becoming more and more specialised and were not seeing those crossovers and those transition points?

Josh: Yes I think that’s a great point and I think this is something that is a little bit of a pendulum swing, that as industries settle, specialisation follows. And then when there is some sort of interruption or change you how to pull back out to get the big picture. I think that for example when mobile came along everyone was pulled back out. For while it was like, okay my job is to create desktop experiences and then mobile came along and whoa, wait a second, a whole set of new skills whole new and bigger picture about how to design screens across devices.

I think we studied seen other thing emerging with this whole digital/physical combination where we’re probably going to have to take a little bit of a big picture and look around a little more before settling back into our routine again. But I think that you bring up a great point with across services. You see the operating systems addressing this or trying to. Android has what they call Intents, where you can say, Hi, I handle text, I handle photos sequence which these things among applications without one application actually knowing anything about the other. Just his list of things that I’m allowed to share this type of media with. And with iOS 8 and of course now iOS 9 there is a similar sort of thing of being able to use the share button to send certain kind of content among things. We don’t have that really for the web. I just recently came across an interesting git hub project that I haven’t experienced much, but is trying to solve that problem. It’s a project called … from Chromium that is exactly that. How can we create those intents to share or edit media or document types across sites? How can we create some sort of general like intents in the android or like the share button in iOS, how can we do that for the web?

So part of this is yes infrastructural changes that are incurred in terms of these cross-platform things, there is infrastructure that we need to rely on from different operating systems or from some emerging standards which is early even to call this project at least a standard by any means but these kinds of experiments they are little bit beyond the reach of an individual designer. But at least with an organisation we can start trying to create those specs. This is something I want to send to my phones, so maybe you are stitching it together, so it sends a text. But at least they’re trying to think about that of how to stitch these experiences together, with its phone or mobile or desktop or physical space.

Paul: I think there is a degree where we as designers need to be willing to step out of our comfort zones and the things that we are experienced with, even if we don’t have all the answers of how to achieve these things, we can still as you said earlier, raise them as issues and problems instead of what you sometimes see as almost a kind of, oh that will never work because I don’t understand it and it’s not my area. In a couple of episodes time we’ve got Golden Krishnan who wrote a great book called the Best Interface is No Interface. His point there is talking about censors and all that kind of thing and how we should be using less user interfaces, and the backlash he’s experienced from that has been quite big, because of oh, that threatens my job. Whereas actually I don’t think it does, it just changes the nature of what design is.

Josh: I agree and I think that what we’re seeing in this industry, and by the way Golden is great, I got the opportunity to meet him for the first time a few weeks ago. What a wonderful guy. Very smart obviously. But what we’re seeing in our industry is this rapid change in the different kinds of inputs and outputs that we can have. So from this little blissful maybe five years or so where things seem to settle on the web, the browser wars settled down and we thought great, we understood how to do this, screen sizes were settling into place. Of course is all mouse and keyboard, hopefully you are doing some accessibility stuff so that folks with disabilities had good alternatives, but for the most part it was this really settled area. And all of a sudden it’s not just screen sizes that are changing, but the variety of inputs to. So one of the things that are obviously, touch has become mainstream and mature as a first-class citizen alongside keyboard and mouse. But you see things like speech coming along, we still don’t want Siri to run a nuclear power plant quite yet, but you can see that it’s nearly there. There were all these different ways that devices are able to work with. Things like Shazam, remember the first time you saw that, your head exploded?

Paul: Witchcraft.

Josh: Exactly, so I think Golden is really onto something and it’s important. And I’m thinking about it a lot too, in that mobile really introduced in a strong mainstream way, which is how do we move interactions off of the device and into the environment around us? The trick of this is that I think that the big fetish right now which Google is certainly leading the charge on, is like if we do that and we let the algorithm figure everything out and give us all the answers and do everything for us. I think that’s the optimists point of view and the sceptic point of view is, oh my god we’re losing all agency, Skynet is here! It’s sort of somewhere in the middle, I think that it’s a little bit naive and dangerous to say let’s the algorithm do everything because so much the time the algorithm isn’t smart enough to know when it’s not smart enough. So how do we create these things that aren’t just a total black box, no Interface thing, it’s just mysterious how it works, things are just happening on our behalf. That’s not the kind of invisible that we want. I think there was an important kind of invisible, Alan Kay back in 1982, this was before the Macintosh came out and was when he was at Xerox Parc inventing the graphic user interface, said that his one goal was to make the computer disappear into the environment. And I’m not sure that it means exactly that is doing everything for us, that we lose our agency, but it just gets out of our way. How do we create these no UI, UIs which I think is great opportunity for these physical spaces in these gaps? How do we create these no UI, UIs that still allow us to express our intent and extend our will and not things that just do things on our behalf quietly and seriously?

Paul: I want to carry on this conversation but we must stop. This is so frustrating because we’ve got into the area that gets me really excited about the future and the potential and I’m looking forward to, well we already live in the future because its post Back to the Future II but this whole area really excites me but we must stop I’m afraid.

Josh: Then let’s talk again soon.

Paul: We need to do a whole series of just you and me talking crap.

Marcus: It’s not crap, well Josh is bits weren’t anyway.

Paul: Harsh but fair.


Paul: I’m just going to do another quick sponsor slot and talking of people that I think do that cross platform thing very well is Harvest. Harvest is a simple time tracking application but if you’ve ever used it, it works really well across multiple platforms. Let’s take something simple like time tracking because that’s one of the things it does, it does a lot of other things as well, but you can start your time tracker going—I do this all the time—I start the time tracker going on my desktop so it’s running I do some work and then the phone goes and I get distracted and I walk away from my computer and half an hour later I think oh crap, my Harvest thing is still running, and I can open up the app on my iPhone and it’s still there and it’s running away on a totally different device and I can hit stop and it stops everywhere. That for me is good cross-platform stuff that I think is really good.

Harvest is a sponsor of hours, they do do time tracking but they also do loads of really good reporting that allows you to understand where all your profits are going on your projects. Of course it also helps them to forecast future projects and how much they will cost which is great. They’ve got really good online invoicing as well which is something that I haven’t got into myself but it looks really impressive with great professional invoices. You can manage expenses now on it, so it’s now dealing with all that kind side of things. Was really nice about Harvest is that it integrates so closely with so many different project management software, Finance software, customer support software and your CRM and your productivity apps and your proposal software and your analytics tools. Basically if you’re using any other tool to do anything vaguely project managery or financey or stuff like that you can pretty much guarantee that Harvest is going to integrate it. So check it out and you can do so by going to and just, it’s a great thing to try out for 30 days absolutely free and if after that you really like it you can use the code BOAG and receive 50% of your first month. So effectively you are getting two months for half a month’s price which is pretty damn good.

Marcus, have you got a good joke?

Marcus: Yes I have.

Paul: Is it another Edinburgh one? Sorry Josh I should explain Marcus has to do a joke. I don’t know where it started and we try and stop it every now and again and we get in trouble.

Marcus: Yes people complain. I still don’t know why.

Paul: It’s part of the tradition.

Marcus: This is a joke sent by a chap called David Trageir and it’s a Jo Brand joke. Just you know who Jo Brand is?

Josh: Yes I do, I do, I’m really excited.

Marcus: She’s a very funny but quite serious comedienne.

Paul: Apps that work? Funny but kind of cynical and miserable?

Marcus: Anyway, a quick joke as ever, I like the one liners.

‘Laughter is the best medicine, though it tends not to work in the case of impotence’.


Josh: Oh my.

Paul: That’s quite risky for us isn’t it? That’s Carry on Laughing.
Marcus: In my best Kenneth Williams voice.

Paul: Thank you Marcus.

Marcus: Anytime.

Paul: Anyway, next week. We haven’t quite got to the interview that I was talking about earlier with Golden but next week we have Gerry McGovern back on the show again. And began to be talking about designing internal systems, so about how we can take the principles of user experience design and apply them to employee experience design and how that’s just as important. So Josh thank you for coming and joining us, brilliant show, really enjoyed it and hope we can get you back on again soon.

Josh: That would be great, I really enjoyed it too, thanks for having me on.

Paul: Good, good. Check out Josh’s book, Designing for Touch, is that right?

Josh: Yes it is, on A Book Apart.

Paul: Join us again next week, thanks for listening.