Where is the moral line in how persuasive we should be?

Paul Boag

This week on the Boagworld Show we have talks on persuasive design and the pros and cons of in-house development.

Skip to talk 1 (17:44) or talk 2 (40:09).

This weeks show is sponsored by Fullstory and Freshbooks.

Paul: Hello and welcome to Boagworld.com the podcast for all those involved in digital, what am I saying?! That’s not the right start any more!

Marcus: A bit of nostalgia, come on!

Paul: oh, we’ve got to keep it in have we?

Marcus: Come on!

Paul: Let me try again. Hello and welcome to Boagworld show the podcast about all aspects of digital design, development and strategy. My name is Paul Boag and joining me on this week’s show is Marcus Lillington. Hello Marcus.

Marcus: Hello Paul.

Paul: You’re going to keep that in aren’t you? That introduction, I can tell.

Marcus: I’m thinking about it. Now I’ve made it complicated because I’ve now mentioned it.

Marcus: Hmmm, so I kind of have to.

Paul: Oh well.

Marcus: That’s all right because quite often I find that the music doesn’t get quiet enough quickly enough when I have to boost that little bit and if it’s like meaningless nonsense or even more so, meaningless nonsense than it usually is, then that is great. Then I don’t have to worry about it being loud enough.

Paul: Hmmm, okay. So basically… I kinda follow that.

Marcus: Welcome to my world.

Paul: Yeah, the things you have to worry about, Marcus! How do you make it through the day!

Marcus: I don’t know. I’m strong. You know, bighearted.

Paul: How are you? I don’t feel like I’ve had a proper conversation. Shall we just have a chat and forget the listener!

Marcus: Absolutely. Well, I did, after last week’s chat, last week’s talk about writing nice emails your email that you wrote to me was the best email. I thought, because it was beautifully put as well. It was like you had spent some time thinking about the right words and all that kind of thing. And I thought “Is Paul feeling all right?!” Then you finished it off with “Is that better!”

Paul: In its passive aggressive way! Yes. (Laughter) I’ve got to say it has made a difference. I have been saying things like “I hope you are well” and other ballshit at the beginning of the email that I don’t actually mean!

Marcus: Yes, I mean that’s an interesting point to carry on the discussion from last week. Should you ballshit? Because… I don’t know.

Paul: But isn’t essentially all social interaction just ballshit?

Marcus: Not if you mean it.

Paul: Yeah, in which case, as I said, all social interaction as far as I am concerned is ballshit. Because I am a miserable horrible person basically. So, there you go.

Marcus: Well, I mean we’ve always said you should be honest and kind of genuine.

Paul: Perhaps I need to start my emails with “I really don’t care but…”

Marcus: Yeah, just don’t ever respond.

Paul: Yes, just don’t send email! There, sorted. Oh, my life is so busy at the moment Marcus.

Marcus: Sorry, I need to pretend I care now don’t I? Really Paul? What are you doing to combat that?

Paul: I’m renovating my house, that’s why my life is so busy. Did you know that? I’m moving out and everything.

Marcus: Why don’t you just buy a new house Paul?

Paul: Well, because there’s nowhere that we really want.

Marcus: Oh, okay.

Paul: Because we kind of looked at this.

Marcus: What with you being a multi-millionaire web celeb and everything!

Paul: Yeah, I should be living in a mansion! Where’s my mansion?

Marcus: Exactly.

Paul: It’s not fair!

Marcus: So what are you going to have done then? So like faux bricks on the outside? Stuff like that?

Paul: Yeah, yeah, pillars. Pillars, we’re going to get pillars and…

Marcus: Perfect!

Paul: …And Lions. Stone lions. (Laughter)

Marcus: I quite like stone lions for some reason, that appeals!

Paul: Yes, but not on a 1970s end of terrace! With white cladding!

Marcus: It would work better than my little olde worlde falling down cottage wouldn’t it.

Paul: No, no I think Lions should go on your place. You should have lions. You should have gargoyles. That’s what you need.

Marcus: Gnomes! I have got some gnomes that were bought by my son and his girlfriend. I have gnomes in the garden that they bought.

Paul: Well there you go.

Marcus: And I thought they are probably quite appropriate.

Paul: Yeah. I mean, I’ve been looking around at houses because we’ve been looking, we’re going spend quite a lot getting this place done up and we thought, well, if we took that money and added it on top of our house what could we buy? And you can’t get anything. I mean, your house must be worth millions now mustn’t it?

Marcus: What, not even where you live Paul?

Paul: No!

Marcus: I don’t believe it!

Paul: It’s true.

Marcus: But no one has a job where you live or anything like that.

Paul: What do you mean?!

Marcus: (Laughter) I’m implying it’s very backward Paul.

Paul: that might be true, I can’t argue with that.

Marcus: But seriously, if I wanted to live in Blandford where you live Paul. What are my job prospects like as a digital person? I’m not a… You know what I’m trying to say. Somebody… I could be a project manager.

Paul: Absolutely fine. You would work in Bournemouth. There is at least one large agency in Bournemouth.

Marcus: So I have to… I’ve got one place I can work. Compared to London where I’ve probably got a thousand.

Paul: Yeah, but who would want to live in London? I mean there’s…

Marcus: The point I’m trying to make though is that I am surprised. I’m not surprised if big houses are expensive down where you are because I can imagine rich people moving to fancy places in Dorset. But kind of like middle level kind of housing I would have thought was cheaper.

Paul: I guess it’s all relative, isn’t it. Because if you sold your house and moved down here you could probably live in a mansion. But because I already live here…

Marcus: I know I can’t Paul, because I’ve looked. Because if you go to that kind of higher level it’s all… The south of England the same pretty much all the way along.

Paul: Oh, all right. But I mean, do you know how much your place is worth? Am I allowed to ask that?

Marcus: I do, but I’m not going to tell you!

Paul: Ah!

Marcus: I know how much Zoopla tells me it is worth.

Paul: Well, the thing is that my… It’s all relative isn’t it, it’s like if you own a little flat in London you could buy an enormous place in Dorset. But, if you already live in Dorset. Even if you have a reasonable place, the next up is still a big jump. Do you see what I mean?

Marcus: Yeah, you are right. And I suppose if you are thinking about getting a sort of nice place. Then yes, it suddenly stops mattering where you are. It’s more a case of if it’s lovely, beautiful Dorset countryside then it’s going to cost a packet more. So, yeah, you’re stuffed. Stay where you are Paul. Spend money on your own house.

Paul: That’s exactly what we’re doing. But we will never get it back that’s the annoying bit. It’s because of the street that we live in that’s not the most salubrious of streets.

Marcus: Are you going for turrets, umm…

Paul: Yes!

Marcus: …and another three floors, so you can then, I don’t know, have a helicopter pad on the top of your fifth floor.

Paul: Yes, that’s exactly what we are doing. And the Lions will be overlooking the helipad.

Marcus: You’re going to go for something, you’re going for digital house aren’t you? Everything is going to be super, super techie.

Paul: No, actually. We are not. It’s just open plan. We are just opening it up. I’m going to do nice things to my office which is good.

Marcus: Ooo, thats… Tell me, tell me because I look at my office and go “This is nice.” But I haven’t changed it in 15 years. What could I do?

Paul: Well, I don’t know about you because your office is a converted bedroom isn’t it basically?

Marcus: It is, yes.

Paul: So, but in my case it was a double garage.

Marcus: Yes, it’s not as big as yours but I do have a sofa in it so it’s not tiny.

Paul: So we are going to replace the roof because it is a flat roof that needs replacing anyway so we are going to get a vaulted ceiling which will be nice.

Marcus: Ooo, that’ll be nice. I’ve already got one of those though.

Paul: At the front of the garage, so to speak, where the door used to be for the front of the garage is going to be a floor-to-ceiling window.

Marcus: Nice.

Paul: Then if you remember out the back of my office bit is a store room and we’re going to convert that into a downstairs toilet and a little kitchen-ey bit and stuff. Yes, it’s all going to be very nice.

Marcus: Cool, and you’re going to go and live in Plumber Manor while it’s all being done?

Paul: Ah, that sounds like a good plan!

Marcus: Doesn’t it?! (Laughter) that would be fantastic. You could probably get a deal as well.

Paul: Six months in the Plumber Manor.

Marcus: You’re not out for six months are you?!

Paul: Yeah, well, this is the trouble. We are getting a lot done. The whole of the ground floor is being redone, most of the, big chunk of the upstairs is being fiddled with as well.

Marcus: Is there one person doing this work.

Paul: No, no. There’s a group of people but it just takes time. But also, to be honest you can’t get a rental for less than six months. I don’t think they’ll be doing it for six months but we have to take six months worth of rental.

Marcus: Right, right. Understood. Yes, that makes sense.

Paul: So that’s really exciting for people I’m sure they are fascinated by that! That is a good nine minutes spent. I think that was worthwhile!

Marcus: def… Well I actually am genuinely interested in people doing their houses up so I guess other people are.

Paul: Well, I’m spending, you know, we spend, because I work from home and James is home educated and Cath is teaching James at home, we are in the house the whole time so, you know, it’s worth spending money on it.

Marcus: How old is he now?

Paul: Oh, 28!

Marcus: He’s not 28.

Paul: No, he’s 14.

Marcus: So is half that isn’t he. And is he taller than you?

Paul: Almost.

Marcus: Yeah, it’s going to happen isn’t it?

Paul: It’s very close now. It’s getting very close. So yes, he’s… We’ve got him for a few more years and then hopefully, you know…

Marcus: Bye, Bye!

Paul: Yeah. I love him!

Marcus: I think I mentioned that last week didn’t I? That James has graduated now and has been for interviews for jobs. It’s like a proper grown-up!

Paul: I know, right! That’s weird.

Marcus: That’s excellent. Yeah, I don’t mind though, it’s good.

Paul: Yeah, so, so if we want to try and vaguely bring it back to what we talk about. I’m hoping to be able to put the renovation of the office part against the business.

Marcus: Well, that’s fair enough!

Paul: Well yeah, but I’ve got to get past my accountant first. She’s a bit of “Ooo,” …stickler. I’ll change accountant!

Marcus: Because you don’t have an office do you? That is your place of work. So, I couldn’t do that because then it would be like I would be claiming that my house was a place of work. Which it isn’t, I just work from home sometimes. But it’s different for you. So yes, you should be able to.

Paul: Yes. I’m going to try. I’m going to try my damnedest. Anyway, shall we talk quickly about a sponsor and then get onto our first talk because I think this might be quite a long show because…

Marcus: Are you going to talk literally quickly?

Paul: Hmmm, no. I’m going to quickly move on to. Well…

Marcus: I’ll just drink some tea then.

Paul: To be honest by this point I think that “quickly moving on to…” has long since passed hasn’t it?

Marcus: It has.

Paul: As we are however many minutes…

Marcus: Oh, by the way I’m in the office today and all the guys say “Hello Paul.”

Paul: Oh, so none of the other times that you’ve been in the office doing it have they ever acknowledged my existence.

Marcus: If I’m honest, no! (Laughter)

Paul: Well, that’s just great. Why today? They obviously want something from me.

Marcus: It’s because I kicked them out of the meeting room saying “I need to set up.” And then it was like “Say hello to Paul.”

Paul: Oh, so they’ve remembered I exist. That’s nice.

Marcus: Yes, just. Vaguely.

Paul: Okay, so let’s talk about Fullstory because I want to tell you a little story about Fullstory.

Marcus: About full story, yes.

Paul: Well actually, do you remember a while ago I was saying about how I had been looking at Fullstory and I had noticed that people had started, they seemed to click on the first paragraph of text. Do you remember me saying this?

Marcus: You have mentioned this. Yes.

Paul: So somebody picked up on it in the slack channel when they heard me say it on the podcast and said “I wonder whether they are selecting it in order to share it.” Right?

Marcus: Yes, I thought "Oh, people do do that and just as a slight tangent on that, we did some testing with some lawyers for a lawyers site we are doing and that’s what they do. They go into other people’s bios and they basically select all the text and they copy and paste it to wherever, whether email or whatever, word document and they don’t want lots of tabs hiding all the content, they just want it all in one big long list. Interesting.

Paul: So they can select it all.

Marcus: So yes, tangent made.

Paul: No, it’s a good tangent. So I thought I would try an experiment based on, you know. I’d watched one person do it. Because the way that Fullstory works, right? Is that you can watch a video back. You see someone do this thing you think is strange and you go “Ooh, I wonder whether other people do that and you can essentially then swap over to whats called a heat map view. But it’s not that normal kind of splotchy confusion, do you know what I mean? Where you get all these blobs all over the place and you don’t really know what’s going on. Instead, it literally just gives you a 1 to 20 or whatever at different dots on the page at what things are clicked on the most. This was coming out really quite high, so a lot of people were doing it. You can then click through on any one of those blobs and actually see how many people are doing it and you could even go through and search and watch other sessions of other people doing the same thing. So it’s a really great way of, kind of, building up a picture of what is going on. The more these videos that I watched that were all clicking on the same thing more I was thinking ”Yes, that’s what they’re doing." So what I have done, if you go on the site now and you select a piece of text it does that medium thing where you get a little popover where you can share it on Twitter or Facebook or whatever else. It’s caused a real jump in the number of people sharing my content online. And it’s like…

Marcus: Good.

Paul: Yes. So, yes, it really works! And Fullstory, you know, being able to go through and actually drill down and go… Well, first of all it’s that thing of “Ooh, it’s made me spot something”. And you think “Oo, that’s a bit peculiar.” Then you kind of form a hypothesis about why that might be and you drill down and you can look at other people and whether they seem to be doing the same thing. Then you can go away and update something and come back and see whether or not it has made a difference. It’s really good, really good. So, anyway, you can sign up and try it for yourself and see whether you get similar kind of results and if you learn as much. You get a free month of their pro account for free which means all of your sessions will be recorded. You don’t have to sign up with a credit card or anything else like that and then at the end of that month you can either start paying or you can continue for free and it will record 1000 sessions per month. All right? So totally no reason why not to give it a go really. You can try it out by going to Fullstory.com/boag. So, there you go that is Fullstory and my little story about Fullstory.

Marcus: Ahh,

Paul: Right, so next up we’ve got Cennydd Bowles {Transcribers Note: For those who don’t speak Welsh it is pronounced Kenneth Bowles} who is… Is a guy we’ve known for years isn’t he?

Marcus: Yep, absolutely.

Paul: Kenneth is a designer and writer that focuses… Is focusing at the moment a lot on the ethics of emerging technologies which is something that I am really interested in. So he’s worked with all kinds of companies including Twitter, Samsung, WWF. He’s also author of one of my favourite books which is “Undercover user experience design” and is currently working on his second book which is about persuasive technologies and that kind of thing, I believe. If you want to know more about him you can… Now, I’m going to spell, although he’s called Kenneth is not spelt that way you think it is. I think it’s spelt Welsh, isn’t it?

Marcus: It is the Welsh spelling.

Paul: It’s the Welsh spelling. So if you want to check out more about him you can do so by going to C E N N Y D D.com. That is such a Welsh world isn’t it?!

Marcus: Yep.

Paul: You can just look at it.

Marcus: Many D’s.

Paul: Many, many D’s. A random y and, yes. It’s all just, yes. So anyway, check it out. This is his talk. So his talk is on what is called persuasive elitism which is how we are people that as technologists that we have a huge influence on people’s behaviour these days and is it right that we get to do that and where is the line in all of that? But I will let Cennydd explain himself.

Persuasive Elitism

Play talk at: 17:44 – Persuasive technologies have become widespread. But is it right that technologists get to choose how people should behave?

Cennydd Bowles: Persuasive Elitism
Cennydd Bowles is a designer and writer focusing on the ethics of emerging technologies. He has worked with companies including Twitter, Samsung, and WWF, is author of the popular Undercover User Experience Design and is now working on his second book. Visit Cennydd’s site at Cennydd.com

All technologies have the power to persuade. Nothing so full of language and light and energy could ever be inert. But lately persuasion has become an explicit goal of technology. Nudge theory the idea that you can change someone’s behaviour through good design or good choice architecture alone has become prominent in the public sector and it is here that we see ideas such as changing defaults to increase organ donation or to encourage people to put more savings into their pension pots. But increasingly we are seeing this idea of behaviour design being adopted by Silicon Valley as well, largely thanks to the pioneering work from people like BJ Fog or his student Nir Eyal are who wrote a book called Hooked. If I were to take a quick scroll through the apps on my phone, Strava, Withings, Citymapper and of course Twitter and Facebook, they all use persuasive techniques. Now, if we were rational humans the idea of digital persuasion would be easy. You just present the costs and the benefits of various options and you have faith that the user will choose the optimal outcome. But, of course we all know that we aren’t rational actors so persuasive approaches we have to try a different tack, we have to essentially exploits cognitive bias and emotion. A persuasion mostly has a cosy and positive image so we tend not to mind that. Who doesn’t want to be more active, after all? Who doesn’t want to be more financially responsible or to explore their city more? These techniques, yes, they exploit human weakness but they do it so that we can overcome human weakness. My concern is these same techniques of course have murkier applications. You can use persuasive techniques to encourage gambling as easily as you can to encourage financial prudence. The dark pattern is now essentially de rigueur across the web and interface designed to deceive users into acting into company interests and not their own. And tech on its current trajectory of becoming yet more unfamiliar to users and yet more obfuscated mostly because of designers and their sensible notion to try and conceal some of the complexity of what is happening in these systems. That black box design means there is significant scope to screw people over. Of course, the dark pattern is, by definition, an unethical piece of design. The more important question is how do we decide what type of persuasive technologies are ethical. Where do we draw that line? There are a few ethical theories that we can apply to this but it really just boils down to what’s in the user’s best interest? This is where I have perhaps the largest problem because that appraisal, is almost always left to technologists. It’s left to us to decide what we think should be in the users best interest. This doesn’t feel right, the best way, surely, to answer that question is to involve the user heavily in our work, is to conduct this deep ethnographic research, to really understand people’s motivations and their goals and the contexts in which they are going to be using our products. Or better still may be we need to adopt a co-design mindset. Bringing our users into the design studio or the company environment so that we can actually work alongside them and they can input into the product development process. But that’s not really how it is done these days. Instead we have a mindset that is very much based on the idea of “ship it and see” experimentation. It’s grounded in the mindset of the lean start-up. I think that is very dangerous if you are trying to change people’s behaviours. It treats people as a means to achieve our own goals rather than treating them as ends in themselves. It doesn’t respect the agency and autonomy of the individual users. Now, even if you aren’t working on a project where you’re intentionally trying to persuade people to change their behaviour I’d argue you probably are anyway because any time that you set a target in your company or for your product then that is no longer a true measure of what is happening. Every target gets gamed. To do that you need to persuade people to act in certain ways so any KPI driven design, any data driven design is an exercise in behaviour design, it’s the same thing. So, tech companies are all trying to change behaviour but generally they are trying to do this in a context of almost no oversight, no upfront anticipation of what the second order consequences might be and very little by way of moral reasoning. Essentially they are happy to just move the needle of behaviour and worry about whether that was the right thing to do a little bit later on. Now, we technologists designers, engineers, product managers, we’ve been given a significant amount of power over the shape of the future. Facebook now is the largest nation on earth. Bitcoin uses globally as much energy as Paraguay. Technologies are becoming more complex, more obscure but more interwoven into people’s lives. I think there is a growing risk with that that technocracy becomes the guiding system of the world. The fate of humanity is left, at least in part, to those who can define its technologies. So the idea that we should be the arbiters of what is in people’s best interests, that really worries me. One of the clearest social movements we’d seen over the last one or two years is a populist revolt against elites. Elites being people who have power over other people’s lives. People who get to shape the future the way they want it to be and who can get everyone else to conform to that vision. Now, unless we can actually involve the public better in decisions of what this technologised future should look like, and unless we particularly gain their input and consent for technology to shape behaviour I think those accusations absolutely apply to us. We are the technocrats we are the elites and I think we need to be damned careful.

Paul: So yes, what a brilliant talk. This is such a big thing for me Marcus because I’ve been, I don’t know whether you know that I do a days workshop on persuasive design.

Marcus: You do. Basically yes, coning people.

Paul: Well, yeah. We do a whole section on ethics, how far you should go and what you should do and what you should’nt do. So it is a really interesting area that I don’t… It is interesting isn’t it as to where you draw the line. Sorry, I’m going to just take a drink.

Marcus: Okay, yes. There’s parallels to what Mike Monteiro was saying about the designer’s responsibility to fight fascism but I found that… It was more… I didn’t have as many arguments against it. My main… I’m not saying Cennydd’s wrong because I don’t think he is because I think we do need to think very carefully about the ethics of the decisions we are making. But some of the examples he was using are basically just what companies do. Companies want to sell things and they will try and persuade you to buy their thing by the use of advertising.

Paul: Yes, I think that… Yes, I accept that and I understand that but there is a… There is a line there. There are ways and means. You can be very manipulative…

Marcus: I agree entirely. I mean I’m struggling a little bit to play devils advocate but it’s kind of, if you take it to the n-th degree then you are basically saying that companies should just sit and wait for people to knock on their door, effectively. “Yes, we’ve got things you might be interested in.” Whereas any kind of advertising campaign you could argue is manipulating people.

Paul: Yes, absolutely but I think, maybe, he wasn’t speaking for long so he wasn’t able to get into some of the details of it. There are several issues here, even if you set aside the morality of it, the truth is that if you manipulate people then you ultimately create buyers remorse, right? And in the world that we live in today I think buyers remorse can be quite a damaging thing because essentially what happens is if people feel like they have been manipulated, even if they haven’t, even if you don’t think you’ve manipulated them. If they feel like that then it can cause a massive backlash. I mean recently Uber have got themselves into all kinds of trouble for many, many reasons but one of those reasons is the pressure they put on drivers to keep driving. The drivers app, the app that the drivers are using is a very manipulative app in order to encourage them to keep going. It’s gamified the whole situation. There is a balance here, absolutely. People are responsible for their own behaviour. And, you know, it’s up to the driver whether or not they keep going but when you put undue pressure on people you are going to end up upsetting them.

Marcus: As I said, I’m finding it hard to play devils advocate on this. Even little old me has written about this. I wrote a piece called “super shiny customer service or your’e dead.” Or something like that which basically covers exactly that. If you manipulate people you are going to lose them forever. I was just thinking how can I push back on this and that was the one. If you take it to the n-th degree you could end up basically saying that all advertising is manipulative therefore it shouldn’t be there. He also said one other thing that I thought was impractical. Designers should sit alongside, sorry, customers, users should sit alongside designers all the time. And I thought that’s not practical. Certainly not practical at the level we work anyway.

Paul: Well, I didn’t necessarily… I didn’t interpret it quite like that but yes, I know what you mean. I love the idea of users and designers working together on a design but it can’t happen all the time, you know, yeah, you’re right. But I mean, for me… I’ve put a lot of thought into this. There is an excellent book called “Nudge” {Transcribers note – Full title is “Inside the Nudge Unit: How small changes can make a big difference” by David Halpern} that talks about this and he actually referenced several of the things that is in that book. You know, the idea of using defaults to encourage organ donations and that kind of thing. It’s a really good book, for me that’s kind of helped me establish the line for myself. And I think everybody’s got to do it individually. I am happy to persuade somebody to do something that at some level they really want to do, right? So, I wouldn’t persuade someone to… I think it’s a waste of time, setting aside the morality, I think it’s a waste of time trying to persuade somebody to buy a phone if they don’t want to buy a phone. But if they want a phone I am quite happy to persuade them to buy it with me rather than a competitor and to buy it now rather than put it off. Does that make sense?

Marcus: Yes, totally.

Paul: You know, that’s, I think that’s down to… One of the things that he mentioned is actually sometimes good design, what you perceive as maybe being slightly manipulative design is actually design that is counterbalancing some other psychological trait. So, for example one trait that we have is the fact that we have got this lizard brain, this old part of our brain that is all about survival and that kind of thing. That part of the brain gets very upset when it has to do things like part with money because it wants to hoard, you know, so that it’s got a cache to protect itself. So, I’m quite happy to counteract that natural, you know, kind of disposition that stops us doing stuff but it’s where you then take that further and start to really play off of people’s emotions that kind of thing. It is interesting. Because you are right, it has been around for years hasn’t it?

Marcus: Yeah, and I think I’d like to, well if he’s writing a book about it I’ll just buy the book and have a read. Because, like you say, I’ve just been left going “Yeah, I need to know more.”

Paul: Yeah.

Marcus: …about what you are thinking.

Paul: The other thing he said which I thought… He talked about KPIs and setting KPIs. And I think that’s a very interesting one because he was saying it from the point of view that if you… If organisations have KPIs then that can put pressure on employees to, you know, to be ever more manipulative in order to reach those KPIs.

Marcus: Absolutely.

Paul: The other kind of thing, you have to be a little bit careful about those kinds of things, those targets that you are asking people to meet, is that sometimes it can skew your priorities. You know, I always remember, do you remember, I won’t say the name of the company, but they sold project management software.

Marcus: I do, yes, I do remember them. Yes.

Paul: And they had this peculiar thing, didn’t they, where their marketing department and sales departments sat separately and the sales department was measured on how many leads it converted the marketing department was measured on how many leads it generated. So the marketing department had this wonderful idea “Well, let’s make the website so that nobody can view our product until they hand across an email address.” Right? Which enabled them to meet their targets and their KPIs but the result is that the sales department had a whole load of email addresses of people that didn’t really give a shit about their product or want it at that particular moment. So, you know.

Marcus: The blog post I mentioned, it was inspired by an experience I had with AO.com, who sell white goods. I bought a washing machine, I think back in January this year. Maybe even before then. The website is just superb, the copy, everything. The steps through to buying it. The guys who deliver it are fantastic. So I didn’t even look anywhere else. Because everything breaks at the same time doesn’t it? I needed a new dishwasher, and that was it, boom. “My experience with AO was so good I am going back there.” And, once again in every way it was fantastic, except for, and I don’t remember this happening on the first call so maybe it was like a new process that they had added to their sales processes, where I got a call from a guy saying “I just wanted to check we have got the right details of your order.” And it wasn’t that at all, it was “I am going to try and sell you some insurance.”

Paul: Ahhh!!

Marcus: And not only was it kind of disguised as something else, a) it was really, really hard sell. He would basically tell a little story about what this thing that he was selling and then sort of finish off by saying “So that’s great, so you are in for that.” And then move on to the next thing! It took me saying “Hang on a sec, I’m not interested, I don’t want it.” At which point he would say “Oh, well if you’re sure?” And all this kind of thing, it’s just like, it was just so much a bad experience in amongst all this other brilliant experience and it made me think “I have to write about it this.” But the point being, one part of your, you know, sales process can completely ruin it for others. But, you know, I also made the point that this guy will be being measured on how much sells. End of. And how much it damages the process going forward will not be being considered. That is why you need a kind of experience director or very senior person who can look at the whole experience holistically. Because you end up with that kind of thing. I will never go back there again. They have lost me for ever. So, yes.

Paul: There you go, I think that sums it up perfectly doesn’t it. Ultimately manipulating people, I think comes back and bites you, you know, Cennydd’s talk was great and I totally agree with what he was saying but he was still looking at it from an ethical and moral point of view. But I think even if you take that out of it I think it’s bad business. Unless you are somebody that is going for a quick win and then you are going to close shop and bog off and, you know, then fair enough from a non-ethical point of view. But from any other, if you are trying to run any kind of long-term business manipulating people too much, if you overstep that line or even if your users perceive that you have overstepped it then you have got serious problems in terms of repeat business, in terms of winning new customers because your negative reputation gets out there just like you’ve just said what you said, you know. Yes. Okay.

Marcus: Moving on.

Paul: Let’s talk about our second sponsor for the day. Our second sponsor is a new one. We’ve got Freshbooks. Well, I say a new one. They have, I think it was season 14 or something that they sponsored us on and they are back which is lovely. If you don’t know who Freshbooks are they are basically super intuitive and easy to use tool for creating and sending invoices and all that kind of gubbins. So, using Freshbook it’s only going to take about 30 seconds to throw together and send out an invoice. You can obviously add your own logo and colour scheme and all of that kind of stuff and branding. Your clients can even pay online which can seriously improve how quickly you get paid. I encourage all of my clients to do that. Freshbooks can show you whether or not your client has looked at the invoice or even looked at the email that has been sent out which is obviously very useful because they don’t have any excuse when they go “Oh, I didn’t get to invoice!” It can also send out late payment reminders to the client automatically which means that you’re not spending all your time chasing those clients down for late payments and that kind of thing which is very useful, again. You can also use Freshbooks deposit feature which streamlines how you invoice money upfront, when you kick off a project. So if you are going to get a deposit for it then it can help you deal with that kind of thing. But the most important thing really to know about Freshbooks, from what I’ve seen of it is that it is extremely simple, even if you are not a numbers person, you know, like me. In fact, especially if you’re not a numbers person it is designed for…. me! (Laughter) So, it offers a monthly unrestricted, or, sorry… Let me start that bit again. Freshbooks are offering a month of unrestricted use to everybody who is listening to the show which is totally free, you can claim it right now, you don’t need to enter a credit card again, which is great. So to claim your free month of unrestricted access to it, go to freshbooks.com/boagworld. Now, when you sign up you will need to enter boagworld UX show into “How did you hear about us?” So, make sure you do that otherwise you won’t get your unrestricted access, so I am told. Okay, so that is Freshbooks, check them out and thank you very much Mr Freshbooks for sponsoring us on the show because it is named after Mr Freshbooks.

Marcus: Is it, really?

Paul: No, no! Of course it’s not. You actually believed me for a moment there didn’t you?

Marcus: Jimmy Freshbooks.

Paul: Jimmy Freshbooks! That would be an awesome name. I’m going to change my name by deed poll to that now. Okay, so next up we have got Lee Bachelor who you can find out more about him at LeeBachelor.co.uk. He started off with a design background and he seems to have progressively moved over the years more and more into the web development side of things. So for the past seven years has been working as a developer in-house for some of the U.K.’s biggest charities, while still doing various side projects along the way as well. He’s going to talk about that, really. Not the side projects but the working in-house as an in-house developer. There are so many different ways aren’t there of managing development within your organisation in terms of whether you do it in-house or whether you use a freelancer or go to an agency or any of the rest. So Lee’s going to share with you his thoughts on the subject. As an in-house developer you will never guess what he’s going to recommend. So, over to Lee.

An in-house web developer’s perspective

Play talk at: 40:09 – With so many options for external development available, why would an organisation want to add a developer to their in-house digital team? And as a developer, what kind of differences can you expect between working in house and in an agency.

Lee Batchelor: An in-house web developer’s perspective
Starting off from a design background, I’ve progressively moved further and further into web development throughout my career. For the past 7 years I’ve been working as a developer in-house for some of the UK’s biggest charities whilst still indulging my passion for web and graphic design on the side. Visit Lee’s site at leebatchelor.co.uk

Working as an in-house web developer can offer a different perspective than being an agency. For a developer there can be challenges and opportunities in equal measure. I think an in-house digital team can be a great environment to work in. From the organisations point of view an in-house developer can be a real asset that will allow the team to be more flexible in the way that they work. Everywhere is different so the way a developer will fit into your organisation will vary depending on the size and type of the team and how it fits in with the rest of the company. I wanted to share some of my experiences of working in-house in a few different places. More often than not as the only web developer on team.

First up it is probably worth saying something about what I mean when I say developer. One thing about working in-house is that regardless of what your official job title is you will most likely be wearing a few different hats. Whatever it might say in your job description there’s a good chance that some people would just get to think of you as the web guy or girl and you will end up doing a lot more besides writing code. Let’s take developer in this instance to mean someone who is working on the technical side of the organisations digital channels. With a huge range of possible external resources available from low-cost remote working freelancers to established agencies with a proven track record why would an organisation want to invest in adding an in-house developer to their team? I think using only one of those resources doesn’t necessarily prevent an organisation from using the others if the situation calls for it. In fact, a combination of all three can allow an organisation to flex over time with the changing workload. Although the associated costs of employing someone on the payroll is going to out weigh using freelancers there are plenty of other benefits which make it worthwhile investing in the extra internal resource. One of the real benefits of having somebody in-house is that they are going to be focused entirely on your company’s work. You won’t have to complete compete with other clients for their time and you can more easily respond to changing priorities. One thing about being in-house is that development is probably not going to be the main focus of the organisations work. Someone has seen the benefit of recruiting an in-house developer but you might need to put in a bit of work with other teams to get them to understand the role. If you are lucky it might be an existing role as there have been predecessors who have fought some of these battles for you already. As a developer joining an in-house team one of the first hurdles that you might have to get over is getting a machine that you can actually get your work done on. Unfortunately you might not have the latest shiny new MacBook to work with. To start out with at least, I have always been given a bog standard Windows laptop exactly the same as somebody in finance gets to do their spreadsheets on. If I was really lucky I might get a bit of extra memory thrown in but that’s probably about the best I can hope for. One of your first tasks will be making friends with the IT department, getting them to understand why your requirements are a bit different from their typical office computer can take a bit of time, but is definitely worth it. There is a lot that could be said about where Windows falls short for a platform for development but if you are in a company that is working on Windows environment you might just have to suck it up and live with it. You can definitely make working with a Windows a lot less painful though. If you don’t have admin rights to your machine it can get tedious pretty quickly if it’s constantly coming up with Windows user access control every time you want to do something. Luckily it will be just as tedious for the IT helpdesk if every time that happens you are onto them to let you do what you need to. They will probably tire of it pretty quickly and they might begin to take a different view about whether you need admin rights to your machine. I’ve been in the situation before where I have finally got a development environment up and running having jumped through all of Windows hoops to get there only to come in the following week to find that IT have made a remote change to all the organisations computers which had completely destroyed the virtual machine. If you are able to have the conversations early on about what you need and why you need it it is easier for your colleagues to understand the implications of any potential system changes. When you don’t have complete control over the tools you are working with backing up early and often is especially important to avoid the risk of unpleasant surprises. The closer working relationships you can build with colleagues as an in-house developer means that when problems do come up you are much better placed to deal with them. On the plus side, with all those challenges being the only developer in a company has meant that my system admin skills have come on light years. Coming from a design background the command line used to seem a scary and intimidating place. But after regularly fighting to get a development environment working reliably on a half locked down windows laptop it’s become a second home. And that’s one of the great things about working in-house, especially as part of a small team. Your role can be really varied and full of different directions you can stretch yourself in. There are plenty of areas that you can learn about on an improving if you are interested. You could code like the last 20 years haven’t happened, nesting tables, within tables, within tables to create some really beautiful HTML emails. You can get into numbercrunching and analytics and A/B testing and somebody somewhere will inevitably insist that you should be developing an app for some reason or other. So if that is not a completely harebrained idea you could even think about doing that. All the while you are likely to be juggling so many competing demands on your time that your project management is going to be up there with the best, and it will need to be. The only potential problem with all of this possibility is that if there is only one of you you might end up being spread pretty thinly. Inevitably there will be times when you just can’t do it all and you will need to rely on external support to get some things done. It’ll tend to be the bigger projects that go out to agencies. Sometimes because it will take you a lifetime to do them in-house alongside all of the other demands on your time. Sometimes because the opinions of the external agency can carry a bit more weight in some organisations than those of an internal team, which can be a bit frustrating. Hopefully your organisations procurement process will allow you to get involved in the selection of whatever agency you will be working with. And it really should because this is one area where having somebody in-house who can come at a project from a technical perspective is invaluable. So often problems arise during the course of a project because of scope creep or the knock on implications of changes not being fully considered. Having someone on your team who is able to take the business needs of the organisation and translate them into a detailed brief for an agency means that the budget that you are spending on external resources is focused on getting the job done rather than figuring out what it is that you are asking for. It makes for a much more productive relationship and you are more likely to get what you want on time and on budget. When you are choosing an agency to work with it can be really useful to have clear development standards defined that they will have to sign up to. That way you can be confident that whoever is working on the site somebody else will be able to pick up the code further down the line and support it. For an in-house developer in a small team there is a risk that you start seeing a lot of interesting larger scale projects going out to agencies simply because you don’t have the capacity to deliver them as quickly in-house. You run the risk of beginning to feel that you are missing out on the good stuff. While some agencies have the approach to collaboration like throwing a hand grenade over the wall and running away I’ve been lucky enough to work with some really great agencies who value close collaboration. Those projects where the in-house team and agency were able to work closely together are always the most successful and with the least friction points. If you are the only developer in your team having that opportunity to work closely with other developers every now and then can be a welcome reminder that there are other people out there who share some of the same frustrations and problems that you might usually have to deal with on your own. That’s why looking for ways to get involved in the wider development computer community can be really useful to. There will be conferences, workshops re-tops that you can go to as well as all sorts of online spaces where you can connect with other developers. Being actively involved in any development being carried out by agencies puts an in-house developer in a much better position when it comes to ongoing support of the site. For the organisation having that technical knowledge in house means that you are much more self-sufficient and better placed to extend the functionality further down the line if you need to. If you are in-house you are going to get really good at managing and supporting your organisations sites and systems but you might feel as if you’re missing out on the variety of work that someone in an agency has. The rate of change in our industry can sometimes feel overwhelming and if you are working on the same site or sites all the time it can be especially easy to feel as if you are struggling to keep up with the latest developments. There might be opportunities in your everyday work to inject a bit of variety and mix things up a little. You could always use side projects to expand your experience in directions that you can’t fit in to the 9-to–5. As long as it is not interfering with your full-time job I’ve always worked in organisations that are happy for me to have side projects on the go. I think that’s a really important factor in your own development. Ultimately the organisation benefits from the learnings that learnings that come out of those projects and having something a bit more varied to work on can reduce the risk of you getting disengaged during those times when the day job can feel a bit of a drag. Like all of these things though it is important to make sure that you get a reasonable amount of life and work/life balance to reduce the risk of getting overloaded.

It’s not just on the technical front that having a developer in-house as an asset. They will have the chance to really get to know the organisation in a way that you just can’t from the outside. That perspective and the relationships that you can build will allow you to be a lot more proactive. An in-house developer is better placed to anticipate the needs of an organisation and find the solution to problems much quicker than having to go backwards and forwards with external suppliers. If you are lucky enough to have a reasonable size digital team with some UX expertise and content creators on board you can make your in-house unit a real force to drive digital innovation in your organisation. If you get the right person in the right in-house role and give them the tools that they need to get on with doing their job you can really unlock the potential of the digital team and the organisation. As a developer being part of an in-house team can give you an opportunity to really get under the skin of an organisation and have a lasting longterm impact. It will also allow you to try new things and stretch yourself in all sorts of different directions you probably can’t anticipate. There is no one size fits all approach that will work for everyone or for every organisation but I would really recommend considering adding a developer to your in-house team and if you are a developer considering taking on an in-house role and seeing if it works for you.

Paul: So I have to say I do agree with Lee. I do think that most organisations should be looking at building up some in-house skill these days. Even as somebody who is still a non-Executive Director of an agency, I still think…

Marcus: I haven’t really got any thing to say on this one.

Paul: Have you not!? (Laughter)

Marcus: Well, you know. In-house developer? No, just use agencies!

Paul: Really, you don’t…

Marcus: That’s what I think.

Paul: … You don’t believe that.

Marcus: No I don’t and neither does Lee. Lee thinks it should be a mixture, as do I.

Paul: Yeah, that’s… Yeah.

Marcus: So, there you go.

Paul: Because I mean are there any of Headscapes clients that don’t have some kind of in-house digital capability?

Marcus: It depends, there are a few that don’t have developers. But all of them have web teams.

Paul: Yeah, okay.

Marcus: But yes, there are quite a few that don’t have people that can code, specifically. Still.

Paul: Yeah, I suppose that is true.

Marcus: I would argue that number one is content people, that is what you need first.

Paul: I would agree.

Marcus: You need somebody… Well, I guess you need a leader first but after that it is content people and then you need to start getting into them more kind of technical roles. But yes, generally speaking I agree with him entirely. I suppose it depends on the size of the organisation. Universities, as we have talked about, and got quite an interesting reaction on Twitter, I noticed.

Paul: Did we? What did we say about…

Marcus: We said how refreshing it was to see how far ahead that the universities sector web teams, digital teams are compared to maybe some others. Which was met with open mouths by a few on Twitter. (Laughter)

Paul: Yes, yeah. And we are all doomed if that is the state of in-house teams.

Marcus: I did like the analogy. Because you basically responded by saying “Well, that’s our experience. It certainly seems to have improved a lot.” And I think the analogy was oh, maybe there was this… I don’t know, it was kind of like a shining light pulling along a burning barge or something like that, which made me laugh.

Paul: Yes, that was it. Which is probably about right, actually, I think when it comes to the H.E. sector. But anyway, that’s off topic.

Marcus: I’ve gone off tangent hugely, I can’t even remember what point I was making or what I was referring to but along the lines of, yeah, I completely agree with Lee from the other side. We can’t survive, certainly Headscape, we are too small to offer a kind of regular position in any organisation. So yes, of course a kind of balance between the two makes the most sense to me.

Paul: There are some interesting challenges, mind. I mean, if I was forced to come up with a one size fits all solution which is obviously never the right approach. I am leaning towards, see… There are certain problems, as Lee pointed out, of working in-house, okay? That in my experience in-house developers are not particularly well looked after. Right? Because management don’t really understand what they do, because they are forced to use the same kit as everybody else, they never get the training that they need, you know, especially if they are a lone developer, they are isolated so it is hard to learn and keep up.

Marcus: It sounds awful, join an agency!

Paul: Well, there are challenges because I think if you are say, a charity like Lee works with. You know, they don’t know how to run an in-house digital team because they are not digital experts. So one model that I’m leaning towards at the moment is a kind of outsource your in-house team. I’ve talked to you about this haven’t I?

Marcus: Yes, yes you have.

Paul: You, you and Chris, which is this idea that, okay as an in-house… I’ll tell you where I got the idea from, is catering! (Laughter) Which is a bit bizarre. So, a lot of universities they always used to have their own kind of kitchen staff and all of this kind of stuff. And then they kind of came to this realisation that well actually, we don’t want… We are about learning, why are we running kitchen staff. So what they do is they commission a third party to essentially run the in-house catering services for the organisation. And those people work within the organisation but they’re employed by a third party company. And I actually think that model works quite well for digital as well because it avoids a lot of the problems. So, for example, you know, if a developer was working for someone like you and Chris for example. So say if you hired Lee, right? Lee then carries on working in the charity that he is working in but he actually is employed by you. That means that now you are the person supplying him with the kit, right? So he gets the shiny new Mac. He is also in contact with the other developers that your… that you have hired, even though he is the only developer working in that charity he is still in contact with other people at Headscape. So that means he is learning that kind of stuff. You recognise, because you are experienced digital people that he needs training so you have kind of factored that into the cost of everything so he goes and gets the training he needs. You know, you’re the one that is doing his appraisal every year so you actually understand whether or not he is doing his job well. And he is kind of protected from the organisational differences between the client and how we work as digital people. Does that make sense?

Marcus: It does.

Paul: And then the charity doesn’t have to have any of the hassle of, you know, dealing with a different group of people that’s not their area of expertise or their responsibility but they still get all of the benefits of having someone in-house.

Marcus: Yeah. Interesting.

Paul: It’s my current view on the subject. I’ll probably change my mind in a few weeks but that’s what I’m on currently.

Marcus: It kinda comes down to should it just be designers and developers or should agencies like Headscape be offering, sort of, whole teams of content people as well? I don’t know. It suddenly becomes complicated in my head but then I think Headscape are probably a bad example because we are not looking to expand. We are quite happy as we are. But I guess, if we were looking to expand then that would be a way we could do it. Start offering teams to people. Yeah, it’s interesting.

Paul: My problem with not having an in-house team and just using an agency is that when you are constantly paying an outside supplier like, say Headscape again, and you don’t have anybody in house to do that kind of stuff I think organisations become reluctant to spend money, understandably so, because of the costs associated with it and so that makes them reluctant to incrementally improve their website.

Marcus: Yeah.

Paul: Which is a problem isn’t it? And actually when you’ve got someone in-house and you are paying their regular salary it actually encourages the complete opposite of that because you want to get your moneys worth out of the person. So that’s why that kind of halfway house of what I said, you know, what I described a minute ago works because you are still paying for that ongoing person even though they are being managed outside.

Marcus: Hmmm. I guess… Well, one major issue would be getting some kinds of parity between what an agency could charge versus what’s a charity, say, could pick up a developer for from a salary point of view. Because I suspect there is quite a disparity there.

Paul: Well yeah, there would be because there would be a markup difference in terms of… Well, a) you would have an administrative overhead of managing that developer and doing his appraisals and all of that kind of stuff. Then you would need to provide kit for them, then you would need to provide training for them. But the truth is the organisation is doing that anyway. The charity would have to do that if you weren’t doing it. The trouble is is it is a hidden cost and they are not seeing that they are having to do that. So the two… so doing it via you would seem like a big markup even though it probably isn’t in reality. So, it’s an interesting idea. I know some agencies that have made it work but it’s not without its problems and like you say I don’t think it is necessarily right for Headscape because you guys, you know, want an easy life.

Marcus: Basically. What’s wrong with that?

Paul: Nothing. Oh, nothing! I am not in any way criticising. The day one we set up Headscape we said we wanted a lifestyle business, didn’t we? And you know…

Marcus: Yep.

Paul: So that comes at the top of the list in my opinion. Okay, I think we are about done aren’t we?

Marcus: I think we are.

Paul: So I wanted to let people know that I think we have filled all our slots.

Marcus: (Sharp intake of breath) Leigh has told me he will get it done by the end of the week.

Paul: I’ll squeeze Leigh in. Actually I can squeeze some more in. I just thought, because I can move up to 3 per show if I need to so feel free to send more if you want to but at least now we’ve got enough content to finish the season!

Marcus: Hurray!

Paul: Hurray! Whoo! (Laughter) That’s encouraging as we are on episode 11. Right, Marcus, joke.

Marcus: This is from Kieran McGrath in the bad jokes slack channel. I like it very much. “I got my friend an elephant for his room he said thanks, I said don’t mention it.”

Paul: Elephant in the room… Ah, oh, I see, I get it!

Marcus: I thought that was rather good.

Paul: Yeah…

Marcus: Yeah? Yeah, all right, it fell a bit flat. When I read it I thought it was really funny.

Paul: Sometimes some things work better written.

Marcus: Yeah, they do. That’s obviously one of them!

Paul: Or somethings work better when you’re not telling them!

Marcus: Yes, that’s true. I can’t deny that.

Paul: Okay, so that’s this week’s show. Thank you very much for listening we shall return again next week with more lightening talks but until then thanks for listening, bye bye.