The Internets Never Forget | February 27, 2010

5 Years ago somebody wrote something stupid on the Internet that annoyed a bunch of bloggers enough to write about it, including myself. Yesterday I received a contrite email from this person saying that the incident had ruined their life and asking if I’d remove the post. It turns out that my blog post ranked in the top 20 results for this guys name and he was wondering if I’d remove the article. I considered it, as to be honest I’d completely forgotten about the event (as had most people 2 weeks after it happen) and I didn’t really care that much anyway. However it got me thinking about two different things.

On the one hand, the Internet can freeze youthful folly and a small transgressions can stick with you for life. So that picture of you drunk and passed out in a skip, or that heated argument you had on a mailing list when you were twenty can come back and haunt you. This is something that the Facebook generation is beginning to discover as they enter the job market only to have their potential boss Google their antics. Surely everybody deserves the anonymity of youth; to screw up a few times and not have it haunt you for life for ever. I’m a pretty decent chap and felt sorry for the guy, so was definitely tempted to strike his transgressions from the history books. I know that I’d want somebody to show me some compassion if the position was reversed.

On the other hand, by removing this information aren’t we effectively rewriting history? I’m sure we’ve all written dumb things on the Internet in the past, yet we don’t all go around asking for this information to be doctored. Shouldn’t people be forced to standby their mistakes and carry them with honour and dignity? Isn’t it important to know that the MP now campaigning for family values once smoked pot and screwed around? Similarly isn’t it useful to know that somebody who now makes their living writing standards based code once said…

“Standards cronies have now latched on to the disabled ‘the starving African children of high technology’ for leverage. Spend time reading A List Apart, and you’ll soon get the impression that accessibility is bigger than cancer, and we’re all about to go blind and lose our mouse-bearing limbs. The solution? Web standards!”

So what do you folks think? Should youthful folly be let to rest or is ther a moral obligation to keep this information around?

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My response to the question of speculative pitches | February 11, 2010

A few nights ago I attended a UX-Bri session where one of the speakers floated the idea of doing free usability testing in order to win projects. I asked about the moral implications of this and was surprised by the response. While the audience largely disagreed with the idea of speculative design work, it seemed that speculative UX work was somehow more acceptable. The speaker later cc’d me into an email question from one of the audience members querying my negative reaction to speculative pitching so here was my response…

“Dear XXXX,

There has been a debate over the subject of speculative work running within the design community for some time now, so I thought it was worth raising the issue.

One side of the argument states that helping a client solve their problems for free, before being awarded a contact is bad practice. This camp feels that speculative work of any kind devalues the work that we do by the very fact that we’re giving it away at no cost. This helps solidify the notion that thinking about a problem is free and that designers should only get paid for production work. However many designers feel that it is in-fact their problems solving abilities that give them their competitive edge and that the production work is just a by-product of this. The fear is that if designers continue to do work for free, this may become expected practice, as it is in other creative industries. This puts the power squarely in the hands of the client, forcing all designer to capitulate and therefor suffer large amounts of outlay in order to secure relatively modest contracts.

The other side of the argument states that designers should do whatever they need in order to win a project and that speculative work is a legitimate means of business development. Many of them will count this as part of their new business development spend and will have already accounted for this in their rates. These designers cite that speculative work is already expected in other fields like advertising so is becoming the norm. They will also argue that speculative work is no different from other sales activities like meetings, proposal writing etc.

Personally I feel that this argument is rather reductive. Just because speculative work exists in other industries doesn’t mean that it has a place on the web. With large advertising agencies the contracts can be worth millions of pounds. With these kind of figures at stake it seems worth spending a couple of weeks on a pitch. However very little web work comes close to these figures, so the amount of speculative work needed is disproportionately high.

While it is true that speculative work can help you win projects in the short term, once it becomes the norm it places a large burden on the industry in general. Due to the cost of speculative work and its early place in the buying cycle, it is rare that you will have enough information to do a sufficiently processional job. As such, not only do you wean clients into the idea that the work you do has little value, but that the resulting quality is low.

As with other industries, there is an inherent ‘cost to sale.’ As such lots of free work does go on. My argument is that this work should involve explaining to your customers how you will go about solving their problems and how you have used similar techniques to solve the problems of other clients. I do not believe that helping to solve clients problems in advance of winning the project is a long term sustainable business practice. Furthermore, by devaluing the work that we do, I feel that speculative problem-solving can damage the industry as a whole.”

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Clearleft offers free training to budding conference speakers | February 3, 2010

In order to get more people in the design scene speaking at events like SillSwap, BarCamp and even dConstruct or UX London, I’ve been toying with the idea of organising a free public speaking course. It would be held on a yet-to-be-determined Saturday at the Clearleft offices in Brighton and would focus on practical, hands-on tuition.

We would start with how to plan, research and design a talk that delights your audience, paying special attention to story telling and narrative. We would then move onto the delivery and performance side of things; teaching people how to project their voice, vary their tone, use the stage and work the audience. It’s all basic stuff, but it’s these rookie errors that can damage an otherwise excellent presentation.

To ensure everybody gets the individual attention they need, the even will be for a limited number of people. I’m not sure how many yet, but probably no more than 12. Everybody will be expected to present a short practice talk and we’ll video each session so the attendees see how they improve over the day. So they’ll be no tourists.

This workshop will be aimed at people who are really keen on breaking into the conference speaking circuit and need some coaching and improvement. So it’s not for folks who want to brush up on their general speaking skills.

In order to select the best candidates I’m asking that people record a short 5 min presentation, post it up on Vimeo and then add the link in the comments below. If you could add a little background info as well, that would be great.

We’re not looking for super slick presentations, or the folks that need the most help. Instead we’re looking for people with an interesting message and a passion for what they do. Oh, and at the risk of being charged with positive discrimination, if there are two equally strong candidates and one comes from an under represented segment in the web community, we’ll invite them first.

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