Hello world :: #wintergilesv3 “Iseabail”

17 06 2008

Hello all,

Proudly announcing the release of wintergilesv3, codenamed “Iseabail Kathryn”.

Born at 9:18 AM on Tuesday the 17th of June 2008.

Proud brothers Oscar and Gus, alongside Mum and Dad are elated and tired.

Thank you to the great people at Calvary Hospital in the ACT for your help, support and outstanding care.

Pictures available on Flicr here: http://flickr.com/photos/wintergiles/

More to come. Watch this space, or watch the flickr.com site.


Is User Centred Design only for software?

19 05 2008

I had a conversation today, which was I interesting and enlightening.

We were talking about User Centred Design, and the person I was talking to, let’s call him “Bob”, was all fixated on how UCD was born from the IT age.

I of course argued to the contrary and being an Industrial Designer (actual buttons that you click with your fingres and so on)

You see, UCD in all it’s forms and even as simply as a reseraunt, asking the customer how they like their coffee and thus changing the menu.

It’s alive in the automotive industry like nothing else. Look at the features that appear in the new cars each year, how do you think they arrive at what is on that list? how do you think motorcycles (the finest and most incredible machines this world has ever known) have become such highly focussed and purposed solely for integrating the human with amazing speed and grace?

I digress. But to make my point, I’ll look at a new different product all together. A perambulator.

Specifically a terriffic one made by Britax (Steelcraft), called the “Strider”.

We just got one for our new kid. Me being me, I reviewed it quite carefully when we were purchasing it.

To me, took up the role of the technical, financial, and coach buyer. The boss took up the role of the User buyer, as well as a little bit of the financial buyer.

From my perspectives, having reverse engineered the design, and the product itself:

Technical buyer:

– it’s machined nicely, with all the fittings, … fitting well, and operating it is easy, and well thought out, for a human to work, (who has two hands, TWO not THREE Bertini)

– it was made from good quality extruded aluminium.

– it had solid motion through all its joints, and bushes moved silently without catching or rubbing.

– the tyres were airless, and thus would never run flat, and could have the tread replaced.

– the wheels pop off, and the bassinet pops off easily to reduce stack height when folded down.

– light weight, with minimal plastics and over complicated jointing systems.

Financial buyer:

– in terms of construction cost to produce the item, to the obvious quality standard, seemed reasonable. Easily besting the “could I build it myself for less?” question.

– in terms of quality in comparison to the other things on the market (ahem …http://www.bugaboo.com/ @ $1500AUD for a pram!) and versus the more economical bretheren, certainly seemed to offer good value for money.

– Because of the inherant quality of the product, wear and tear or lifespan questions are well met.

Coach Buyer:

– Because the financial buyer and the techncial buyer (which is a common male role to play in such a decision) were happy, the Coach buyer was provided with many good things to help coach the User buyer into a position of purchase. Why? Because it came with this terriffic two part brochure, the one set of pages, had all the technical information and instructional information I in my roles (and as a male) would want. Plus!!! it had all the information I would need to be able to support my actual decision maker in her decision.

Of note, it wasn’t a con, or underhanded in my view. Because Britax gave me all the information I wanted to know, and made the product in such a way that it addressed my concerns, my job in my role was made easier.

From the Boss’s side, she got great usability, reassurance from her technical and financial buyer that the thing was good, and to boot, because the financials were reasonable.. heaps of extras for bub.

Which suited me also.

So where’s the UCD in all this?

I’ll ask you this.

We bought the pram. We’re happy about it, we like it, like to use it, and had no post purchase buyers remorse.

How do you think the company could have achieved that, if they DIDN’T ask users what they wanted and then acted upon that information?

Bad designs, were they really all that bad?

19 04 2008

Barcamp presentationWell today is the first Barcamp in Canberra and it’s shaping up to be a blast.

To follow what’s happening at the event, you can follow on twitter by adding @barcampcanberra.

At this event along side a gamut of much more fantastic presenters than I, have played my part and put together a little something for us all to have a look at.

I did a presentation on bad designs, and explored a bit in a short 15 minute window, a few points that take a bit of the ‘dis’ out of reviewing a bad design.

The slide pack (bad-design-at-barcamp) and at slideshare goes through a few gems from the 90’s, and some points as to why they mightn’t be so nasty… from a certain point of view.


I laid out a challenge to all who attended, and you to, to nominate a horrible site, and either thump down a case for why it sucks or why it’s great, but still sucks.

The rules are pretty simple:

1. no questionable material if you please.

2. you can’t just nominate a site, you have to state why it’s good or why it sucks.

3. sites must be truely horrible.

So to participate, just comment away.

I’ll be participating as well, and I’ll be trying to stand behind any of the horrid, torrid, utterly nasty sites you find.

Game on everyone.

Why isn’t Government adopting social software?

15 01 2008

Just quickly picking up on posts from two people who I hold in regard in the matter of social networking.

From my perspective, which I’ll say right now has little to do with social networking applications, but more to do with enabling change to new concepts within the Federal Government…

I both agree and disagree with my brothers in arms Matthew Hodgson and Stephen Collins.

Now I’ve had little to do with social network software other than my own personal tinkering. What I HAVE had a lot of experience in doing is implementation of new concepts within the Federal Government.

One of my own personal trophies, was within an Australian Federal organisation of about 4,500 people, around 3,800 of them customer service officers. The organisation had no concepts of User Centric considerations from any perspective within the organisation. This extended from how processes were created, policy was developed, software designed and delivered let alone maintained, forms design and documentation development, and sadly even marketing campaigns had a lot to be desired. Fundamentally the organisation was failing to provide quality customer service to both it’s internal workers and it’s clients becaue of it. Everything else was blamed, and the dead cat of poor design was simply ignored as the development process just kept running the same way.

It took several years of very strategic proofs of concept activities, done as pet projects where I could bargain my way in but in the end, the concepts were adopted, and it got change beginning to occur. Eventually a critical mass of people became tuned to the concepts, and that was the catalyst it needed to keep on going under it’s own steam.

The story there is the same in my mind, when it comes to instilling that sort of ‘new technology’ concept within the Federal Government. I’m yet to come across someone in the Government who genuinely doesn’t want to do things better, or to make better products. I have come across many people who have been beaten by the ‘system’ and fallen victim to the “I can’t change things” attitude.

The key point for achieving success in getting new concepts in place really falls to a few things in my experience:

1. Not everyone, in fact most people within Government get caught or have been caught out ‘prematurely’ adopting new technology, and therefore have developed a fear based resistance to anything new. This can be overcome, if you as the instigator of the change, can indeed PROVE that what you are suggesting is of worth of some kind. For government, this must be tangible and measurable, so it can withstand the battering it will get from the accountability police.

2. Proof is not what YOU as the instigator think is a good thing, it’s what THEY as the recipient think is a good thing. Things like social networking do have value, and do have many non or hard to measure benefits. But again, to beat the risk beast, you have to provide evidence that the concepts deliver against THEIR values. Sadly “this is the coolest thing on the web right now and is going to provide amazing networking options” simply doesn’t cut it with the accountants.

3. Return on investment. Government is held accountable for every cent it spends. End of story. Therefore the people involved do in my experience make significant effort to ensure that they spend well. Failure is acceptable, but if the risk of failure is increased due to unmeasurable benefits at the end of the day, you won’t find a buyer.

So how do you get around this stuff?

Well to make a long story short, if you have an idea and want to get it in play;

Firstly, remember you are working in or talking to a large organisation. Change takes time, and is not easy. So be “patient, persistent, and positive while maintaining perseverance”. (Thanks Pat)

Secondly,  figure out what is of value to both the person you are talking to, and the organisation on the whole. Your solution has to map to those values, not yours. If you are finding yourself making up values that align to your solution, you may be doing this the wrong way around.

Thirdly, look for opportunities to demonstrate in a controlled and risk free or contained environment what you are thinking. Pictures speak a thousand words… active prototypes being used by real people speak a heck of a lot more.

Fourthly, and this is critical. Figure out how to measure the performance of the idea both for now and over time, and then actually measure or concept clearly in the right language (in terms of values discussed above). If you cannot measure and justify the value of doing something, it’ll never happen, or it’ll get ridiculed and no one will do it.

It’s never easy, and people in my experience can get short sighted in terms of seeing long term benefits of many things. Years of beatings over ‘cowboy applications’ and ‘poor decisions’ can do that to a person, even me. To get a concept over the line, at least to proof of concept stage (which is about as far as you’ll need to get in many cases) you need to be able to prove it’s value, in the same terms as those you are pitching to.

Hold a positive view of the Government, there are many things that can be done better, but without a doubt, there are many things they could do far far worse too.

Please send hate mail to benwintergilesatgmaildotcom


Bloggin the personal stuff.

2 12 2007

Well! I don’t normally post about my personal things, but this is a little something close to my heart.

A few weeks ago I was visiting some friends and next door to them, was this little brumby pony, at best 12 hands high (or about shoulder height to the average human).

Where she used to liveSadly, she had been torn away from her environment and mum, with two other brumby ponies a few months ago. As I understand, this was because “she would make a great birthday present!”. So a present she became, to someone who knew nothing about horses, and really didn’t want or have the means to have her. Needless to say, and the photo says it all, she wasn’t cared for at all, and left in a “paddock” filled with building materials, trailers, boats, pattersons curse, and a filthy sink to drink from, with an occasional loaf of bread when the owner remembered to eat.

The other two ponies, because they were all so young, died because they were pulled away from their mothers far too early.

Run free and safe young ones.

So after some quite ridiculous posturing from the ‘owner’ I handed over $100 (well my wife did and I got her as a birthday present.) and I’m now the owner of this lovely little pony.

She’s a beautiful little pony, who is strong in her mind and heart. And in time, the body too. She’ll enjoy running with our other four horses in a large 20 acre paddock with only a border fence in it.

my new pony My parting comment here is something I hope people remember and influence others with.

Animals, dogs, cats, mice, rabbits, fish, horses and any other, are not to fall subject to our predatorial catch and keep behaviours. They are pets, but as pets become part of the family, and deserve to hold their dignity and be respected. They were on this planet long before us, and have the right like us all to enjoy their turn in the sun. Don’t illegally take brumbies out of their environment, they can’t go back once you take them out, and once they are out, they need to be cared for properly. If you are not prepared to take on everything that comes with an animal, buy a playstation.

Please remember this over the coming christmas period, and choose your presents carefully. They deserve good choices too.

Have a safe, happy and joyful Christmas period, whatever your beliefs.

Design Authority – Part two

21 11 2007

Using the Design Authority concept in a large multi team agile environment.

Your Design is AUTHORISED!!!I was speaking with a colleague not long ago. He was asking me about using agile in a large team (50 plus developers, testers and designers), and the kinds of

The challenges as we saw them were;

  • That the software that the floor produced all serviced an internal client (i.e. the organisation).
  • That development efficiency was anecdotally noted as being not where it was desired.
  • That development consistency was also anecdotally not where it was desired.
  • That because of the changing priorities, consistency was a real issue, both in the visual, experience and technical areas, affecting the perceptions of quality, reliability and repeatability.

So I spoke with him about how he could firstly consider using agile methods to enable flexibility in his teams, so they could be configured against the outcomes required of them by the clients. We discussed the use of a configuration manager role, which would effectively marshal those team configurations so that the teams were created and disbanded in an efficient manner. We also discussed how he could still use a predominantly linear management technique to run the floor from an administrative perspective, thus supporting regimented accounting and reporting responsibilities.

Lastly we discussed how he could use a ‘Design Authority Cluster’ to cover off the following key areas:

  • Visual and interaction design
  • Business modeling design
  • Technical or architectural design

The versatility of the Design Authority role is such that the key concepts of having a dedicated role to maintain authority and provide that ‘single point of truth’, can easily be carried over consistently to pretty much any discipline. The only example where I can’t see it being applied, is in Project Management where a Centre of Excellence or PMO model is probably more appropriate.

Obviously the key points in actually considering these roles are:

  • Actual benefits of consistency of approach
  • Holistically as a whole does the development floor required to produce visually and technically consistent products?
  • How many people will be needed to fulfil the role of the Design Authority, and will they be full time or part time or just plain over-time!?
  • What is the cost of change to the behaviours and activities for development, planning, testing, release management and so forth to instill this new set of roles?
  • Is it a single point of truth that’s needed or an expertise Centre of Excellence. (hint; one is about guidance and accountability, the other is about capability development and provision, and you may indeed need both.)

In large organsiations, predictability is a big thing. This is because it serves the accountability requirements which is a big deal, particularly in organiations that have public obligations or responsibility to shareholders.

The Design Authority role, engineered and embedded well into an environment can go a long way to supporting those needs.

Enterprise Human Factors…001

13 11 2007

There’s a lot of talk I come across from some very very clever people in the UX, UCD, BA, WebTech spaces that revolves around doing user centred work.

Including user centred work and themes during the software delivery lifecycle (SDLC) is a great thing. I’ve been involved in many key works doing exactly that, right from being the designer, to being the antagonist pushing to get the concepts in place. It’s all good stuff really, getting user research down as being a standard part of the process for developing software, getting rapid prototyping in all its forms in to the way of life, was and still is a great way to spend the day.

But am I really fixing anything? is the source of the problem resolved?

In some ways, while designing the software to help the users is fixing one problem, being that the solution provided at the end of the day is usable, easy to work with, likable even…. is the task that it has to perform sharing those traits?

Lets look at the eTax system from the ATO. The software itself is designed relatively well, not how I would do it, but well enough. Admittedly they have a hard ask posed to them, no one likes doing their tax, they just want to get the cheque at the end of the day. Well I do anyway.

The ATO software is designed relatively well, it’s easy to use (ish) and relatively well positioned in terms of providing good support to novices. Plus I know from personal experience, the ATO invests heavily into it’s user centred design concepts and work, and they have truely top class people on board doing the work.

But, are they addressing this one:

“Are human factors considerations implicated across all facets of our business?”

When policy is created, is the real world impact of the decisions being made at that crucial point in time being considered? What will happen to the Australian public if we generate just one more form for them to fill in? Are we generating a cost for the public through the generation of that form? What is the cost to the public of filling in that form, and is that something that the ATO needs to consider?

Small companies / organisations have less of this issue, but let’s look at this one.

Say there is a reporting requirement for all Australian Residents to fill in a simple 20 data element form, which confirms their postal address. This form conceivably could take no more than 3 minutes to fill in, lick the envelope and put in in your bag to go to the post office tomorrow.

Now for the unseen overhead:

– two minutes to read the envelope, swear about having to fill in another form, find pen and load the requirements of the form into the brain.

– three minutes to fill it in, pack it for posting and whack it in your bag.

– 10 minutes to locate a post office box, post it, and recover from your detour on your way to work or way home.

So the total spend is 15 minutes to do all of that.

Spread that across all mature adults in Australia (i.e. over 18) 15,917,876 X 15 minutes = 3,979,519 Hours spent across Australia.

Now imagine if that were to be paid back at the minimum average hourly rate of Australia, being $12.42/hour.


OK, so that little calculation is rough as guts, but the point being that with large organisations / enterprises, small changes can have large ripples across their user groups. In the ATO’s case, all of Australia.

I’ll say at this point, ATO are keenly aware of this fact, and go to great lengths to limit this kind of effect occurring.

Large enterprises can take that concept of careful consideration of the user base to form not only support or rationale for doing or not doing something, but even for discovering what activities they should be undertaking to meet the needs of the communities they serve (or wish to serve).

The concepts behind benefits profiling being the keystone for delivering an organisations plan can and perhaps even should be created in part through considerations of the humans who will be affected by the desired benefits.

In software development, humans are intertwined into the design and indeed the final output. These concepts can be applied to an entire organisation, how it operates, what benefit it delivers, how it measures success, and how it supports itself into the future.

Perhaps if organisations adopted some of the human centric concepts that occur at the implementation layer of an enterprise, they may be able to significantly improve their success and ease of operation.

Remember consideration is not about constraining change, it’s about optimising and embracing that change.

Thanks to the Australian Bureau of Statistics for the numbers.