Design Artefacts Part 1: Introduction | February 21, 2008

I’ve decided to start a quick series of posts on design artefacts. Basically all the documents, diagrams, designs and other outputs you create during the design process. These artefacts include the following items, although I’m sure you can think of more. As the series progresses I’ll link all the items up for ease of navigation.

These artefacts are often called ‘deliverables’ as they tend to get sent to clients for formal sign-off. Sadly I think we’ve got so fixated with the project management value of these ‘deliverables’ we’ve started to overlook their real value.

During this series I’m going to argue that the benefit of these documents is formative rather than summative. That, rather than being a milestone for checking the validity and progress of your designs, they are actually critical to the formation of the design itself.

If this is the case, which I believe it is, I’m also going to suggest that we stop treating them as traditional ‘deliverables’ and handing them over to clients for approval. Instead I’m going to suggest that we work with our clients in a more collaborative and iterative manner, using a process of passive approval instead.

Comments (17)

Shark! | February 18, 2008

A few weeks ago we organised a public speaking workshop for the whole of Clearleft. A lovely chap called Alex Marshall hosted the workshop, and asked us all to give a 5 minute presentation to the rest of the team. Each session was video recorded and then played back to help us see what we’re doing well and what we’re doing badly.

I’ve been a dive instructor for several years, and have worked as a safety diver on shark feeds in the Great Barrier Reef. I’ve dived with all sorts of sharks in my time, from little white tip reef sharks in Thailand to schools of over 50 hammerheads in the South China seas. There is nothing like jumping in the water with a top level predator to get the heart racing.

However my first ever experience of a shark underwater was dead, laying on the bottom of the ocean with it’s fin cut off. Shark meat isn’t worth much, so it’s quite common to slice the fins off a living shark and then throw it back in the water to slowly drown. As such, I chose to do my talk on the terrible shark finning trade around the world.

Shark fin soup is increasing in popularity due to the economic success of China and other Asian countries. At $100 per bowl in some Hong Kong restaurants, shark fin soup is a sign of power and wealth. However it has little in the way of taste or nutritional value, with all the flavour coming from the chicken stock it’s cooked in. It’s really just there so you can say you’ve eaten shark.

The raising demand for shark fins is having a dramatic effect on the shark population. Many sharks don’t reproduce until the age of 15, so they are extremely sensitive to over fishing. As a top level predator, their disappearance may also have dramatic effects on other parts of the eco-system. There was evidence a few years back that the spiney lobster stocks around Tasmania had collapsed as a direct result of shark overfishing. With no sharks to keep octopus number in check, there was a massive bloom octopus numbers and they were eating all the lobsters.

The problem is that sharks have gained an undeserved reputation as killers, largely as a result of films like Jaws. In reality there are only around 5 unprovoked shark attacks per year, while around 50 million sharks are killed by the finning trade. Much of this trade domes from Europe, which supplied about a third of the fins used ion the Hong Kong shark trade. Spain is the worst culprit, but the UK also has pretty poor regulations.

People love dolphins because they are cute, but few people care about the fate of the shark.

This is anecdotal, but I personally witnessed the affect of overfishing sharks in as little as 3 months. When I was working on the island of Koh Phi-Phi back in 1999, the fishermen were catching fairly large specimens. However as the weeks progressed I noticed the catches getting smaller and smaller until one day, no more sharks were being caught. I went back to Thailand this time last year, and underwater sightings of sharks in the area had dropped to almost zero.

I noticed there was an article in the Times today on the fate of the worlds shark population. It seems that the Hammerhead shark, along with 8 other species, has been put on the ‘red list’ of endangered species. Apparently stocks of the scalloped hammerheads have fallen by 98 percent off the US Atlantic coast since 1970. It’s an interesting read, so I urge you to take a look.

We’re starting to see a resurgence of documentary making at the moment, and Sharkwater gets it’s UK release on the 22nd of February. The movie charts the film makers journey of discovery as he sets out to make an underwater shark adventure but ends up getting embroiled in the international finning trade. I’ll be going to see the movie and I hope you will to. In the meantime, please support the anti finning movement by avoiding any restaurants that sell shark fin soup.

Comments (14)

Stupid Social Network | February 17, 2008

There was a bit of a meme going round the Britpack mailing list last week, with people coming up with names for fictional social networks. Below are a few of my favourites, although please be aware that none of them are my idea and several are just plain WRONG! PC people or those with a sensitive disposition, look away now.

Feel free to share your own ideas for a great new social networking site.

Comments (16)

Silverback | February 14, 2008

Ever since starting Clearleft people have been asking why we don’t build our own app? After all it’s the kind of thing people like 37 Signals or Firewheel have been doing for a while now.

In truth it’s always something we’ve wanted to do, we just never had the time. We’ve been so fixated on creating great products for our customers, we couldn’t fit it in. The other problem was coming up with a great idea. Sure we’ve thrown concepts around before, some of which were pretty good. However none of them ever quite stuck.

That is until a few months ago when we came up with an idea so obvious, we couldn’t believe it hadn’t been done before. As well as being stupidly simple, it was something we ourselves would use. In fact we liked it so much we wanted it to magically appear so we could start using it straight away.

So what is this mystery app? Well I’m afraid it’s a little too early to say at the moment. However if you know the kind of work we do, you can probably figure it out from the holding page. It’s kind of niche, but we hope it will be of benefit to a lot of you designers and developers out there.

The app itself is at a very early alpha stage. It’s almost feature complete but needs a lot of performance tuning. We’re hoping to have a demo ready by SXSW and will start a limited private beta when we get back. However I doubt the app will reach a releasable state for at least a couple of months.

In the meantime, If you’d like to be involved in the beta, why don’t you pop along to the holding page and sign up for notification.

Oh, and I forgot to mention. The app is called Silverback and it features a gorilla holding a clipboard. How cool is that?

Silverback holding page showing a cartoon gorilla wearing a lab coat and holding a clipboard

Comments (17)

User Experience Intern at Clearleft | February 6, 2008

Clearleft is offering a 3-4 month paid internship this summer, for one talented individual. You’ll need to have basic knowledge and interest in the field of user experience design and be willing to work alongside our consultants on real world projects. Previous experience is desirable, but as this is an internship, you’ll get lots of on-the-job training from the rest of our team.

There will be an interview process, so we’ll need to see resumes, cover letters and any examples of work you may have. As we are based in the UK, you’ll also need the right to work here as we’re unable to organise work permits for such a short period.

This is a great opportunity for a recent graduate keen to progress in the fields of information architecture, usability and user-centred design. So if this sounds like you, please drop us a line with your details. Closing date is on Friday 22nd February, so you may want to get your skates on.

Comments (0)