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Developers love users, too

Gerry Gaffney:

First of all, I have to start with a confession. Bless me, Fathers, I haven’t done my homework. I’ll have to extemporize a little bit, but I have thought about what topic I’d like to talk about, but I haven’t sort of written it out extensively, so you’ll have to bear with me a little bit.

But what I did want to talk about was the attitudes that Dev teams and organizations have towards UX and users now in comparison to what it was a few years ago and what the implications might be. And you know, Gerry McGovern, you’ve written a lot about the fact that in the old days, you know, going back 30 years or something, computers were expensive and people were cheap and I think a lot of the attitudes to users emerged from that time.

And we had, you know, a culture of almost, of denigrating users and you’d hear expressions like people referring to a DEU meaning dumb end user and things like that. And it was sort of quite amusing to talk about things like that. But there was a serious note as well. I remember working for a very large petrochemical company and they had installed some software that users had trouble with. They went to head office and they said, look, our users have got a trouble using your software. And the producers of the software said, “Get new users.” So that kind of attitude really did exist. And I think… people say a developers were user hostile, I don’t think developers were user hostile. I think at the entire organizations were user hostile. But it was apparent in developers as well. I think, you know, they were kind of very much separated from users and they didn’t have the user input that they have now.

I remember doing some consulting work with a company in Melbourne. And I was there for about eight or nine months, just on a part-time basis. And when I was leaving a guy called Art came up to me, he was a developer and he said, “You know, when you started here, I thought that UX was bullshit.” And I said, “What do you think now Art?” And he says, “Mostly bullshit.”

You know, that was pinnacle of my career I think. And that was the start of a trend. That was the, when things started to change and you know, the executive level of course bought into the whole idea of user experience because the bottom line effects became apparent once, you know, things like the iPhone came along and the liberalization of the technology to the extent that it was available to everyone and suddenly technology was cheap and people were expensive. So the whole equation was turned on its head.

I think you do still get bastions of old-school techno-supremacists, but most Dev teams nowadays, or at least the ones that I’ve come across, tend to have a firm belief in the necessity and the value of UX, even if it doesn’t necessarily resonate with them individually. And you know, there’s a whole story I guess about whether or not developers tend to be good at interacting with customers or not. And I think there’s a lot of mythology about that to be honest. But you know, there might be a certain grain of truth in it that people who are drawn to, to coding and to being developers are not necessarily drawn to, you know, the softer aspects I guess of user research and the like. But I think this acknowledgement of the importance of user research is absolutely fantastic.

Although a couple of caveats around that, sometimes I think it’s a kind of a UX Lite. It’s the perception you can get a small number of uses to come into your company, use your product or service and that that’s enough. So can still end up with a shallow or an inadequate understanding of your users and their needs. I think in fact a focus on bringing users in can work against the need to go out into the field and do the in-depth research. And that, as we all know, is really, that that’s the gold standard, right? If you’re not going out into the field, into the users’ context and doing research there, then you’re not getting the maximum value out of your UX efforts. And at the other extreme, if you like and, I hesitate to even say it, but I think sometimes organizations get too enamoured with UX, you know, they come to see that UX has has provided really good benefits for them and they’ve got better products and services that they’re developing. And then it becomes, let’s go do the UX, let’s go and do UX. You want to say, hang on guys, that’s enough UX. Let’s go on, you know, develop some products and get something out into the marketplace.

Well, what do you guys think of that? My little spiel?

Gerry Scullion:

I agree. Without being too rude, I never worked in the 80s or 90s. So my experience is, is the 2000s, but, what do you think has changed? Like what drove that change? Obviously the presence and the, you know, the explosion of the Internet in the 90s, you know, giving the power to the consumer to, to raise their voices a lot louder than they would have been able to do in the 80s. Am I right, first of all, and also what do you think has changed and what’s enabled that change?

Gerry Gaffney:

I think Gerry McGovern, the philosopher is the one down to that.

Gerry Scullion: That’s the newsletter.

Gerry McGovern:

I’m reading a book now called Valley of Genius about the history of Silicon Valley and, if you look at the history of computers as well, they started off as military projects, but then they were very much geeky, scientific type of machines and as you said, extremely expensive. And there was this sort of rare atmosphere around them and there was PhDs of engineering or computing using them. And a type of culture evolved and developed there, which was very much about the impressiveness of the, intelligence of the people involved. And they were, they were created for each other. And then when the new personal computer industry began in the late 70s, it initially really kicked off in the business community with spreadsheets and stuff like that and it, so it wasn’t until later that really the consumer, the more ordinary consumer come into the world of using computing.

So I think partly that is a little bit of the lag, but then you got this embedded culture of, snobbery as happens in every sector or group that almost making it easy is beneath me… But then that happens in all sorts of sectors. But then parallel to all that was there was the gaming industry, you know, which drove a lot of innovation as well. So people were focused on, you know, the users are very much in the gaming industry. Generally the PC market or the original computer markets were very elitist and had a very elitist attitude of the world and looked down on people who were not engineers and stuff like that. So they didn’t really have the idea and for quite a while it was not accepted that an ordinary person should even use a computer because as you said at the beginning, Gerry, they were so expensive.

There was this feeling that, oh, this is far too valuable to be given to an ordinary sod in the street, you know, them writing a letter to their children, you know, we need to use this thing for serious statistical research. So I think that embedded into a type of a culture that, and often that early culture is then very hard to change and it attracts similar minded people so that it’s been hard to change that. But you’re right, Gerry, it’s definitely changing for the better. And what you said as well, it can go to the other extreme. It’s always a balance of, you still got to get stuff done, but you got to know what’s the right thing to do as much as possible.

Gerry Scullion:

I guess going back to Gerry Gaffney’s point of development, I’ve had great experience working with developers. But do you think it’s just the fact that we’ve been present in the industry, you know, a lot longer like, say the last 10, 15 years, you know, the UX world, you know, businesses have matured and they realize that they need this service that’s been missing, that gap has been missing. And just because of the presence of designers amongst the teams that are developing these new products and services, they’ve just had to figure it out and work with us. Do you think it’s just been, through symbiosis? 

Gerry Gaffney:

I think, yeah. And necessity as well, Scully, you know, I was talking to Cameron Rogers from Seek recently and we were talking about this thing about, you know, suddenly you were accepted. You know, you went from having to explain UX and justify it to being accepted and then you suddenly realize that, oh wow, now we’ve actually got to justify our place at the table.

Gerry McGovern:

And you know, the signs were there early on as well, like the, the first computer show in San Francisco, I don’t know, there was 10 or 12 companies exhibiting and Apple was one of them. And you know, I think they had the Apple II, they were just launching the Apple II and the Apple II looked cool, it looked nice and the other ones look like boxes you’d find in a garage, you know, left there for two years. And people were just saying, the Apple II, this is going to move. Well, it also had good software. It was technically better, but it was more usable. And the ones who got it early on, the marriage of usability and actually technical strength and capacity are the ones that triumphed in the long term.

Gerry Gaffney:

It’s a good place to be. I think where we’ve got the, you know, UX is now so well accepted in the vast majority of organizations.

Gerry Scullion:

It is. Yeah, absolutely. It’s brilliant that that’s the case. I have experienced actually a couple instances since returning home of developers not really wanting to engage with UX, just in my day to day role of working in the industry. And it was really like shocking because I hadn’t seen it for a very long time. I remember I did a pitch and one of the guys was like, “What is this UX and Service Design  thing?” And I was like, it’s, you know, we’re going to help design the product and the service and we’re going to complete research and, “Sure already got our technical requirements done.” And I was like, right, so, how did you write them? And he was like, what do you mean? We wrote them in the business. So I was like, why are you looking to speak to me? You know, what’s your hope? And it’s the misunderstanding and miscommunication and the understanding of design. It was more like, we need you to do the screens…

Gerry Gaffney:

The colours.

Gerry Scullion:

Yeah. We need you to look at the technical requirements and we need you to translate those into interfaces. So it’s that maturity that, you know… unfortunately, it was an older developer, so I don’t mean to play into that stereotype, but, it was an older developer…

Gerry Gaffney:

Watch who you’re talking to now, Scully!

Gerry Scullion:

I knew where this was going, I’m treading on thin ice here. 

Gerry McGovern:

They were over 70, were they?

Gerry Scullion:

They were over 70. Well I’m talking to you at 35. I’m only joking. And like that, that was one instance where I had, when I hadn’t experienced for quite a while, so it was insightful.

Gerry Gaffney:

Anyway I think it’s gotten a lot better. I think it’s good to have a topic where we’re not complaining about stuff. So that’s my contribution for what it’s worth.


Gerry Scullion:

Consultancies or agencies, call them what you will, professional services even, and I’m speaking from my own perspective of working before they arrive into organizations and sometimes alongside them in some cases and also after they’ve been into organizations.

So from speaking with many of my peers, it’s often seen as the big consultancies, they arrive into the businesses, they assume total knowledge, then they proceed to act like a flock of white-shirted eagles circling a carcass in the wild, all here to feed, do their job and retreat. Now when you have this type of model in play, you end up with not only people retreating, but also the IP leaves the room and the organizational culture and the subcultures are often damaged. Now the lack of ownership, the lack of trust and authority is something that needs to be considered and the lack of knowledge and the lack of IP that retains and the organization is often missed.

The organization resembles less of a structure and at the end of it it looks more like a mud hut. And that’s more frequent. These consultancies continue to work in this way and I believe there’s a behavioural problem in the play where the bottom line of profit is driving everything. The organization is asking for one thing, they don’t really know what they don’t know. And what we really need is probably a few others to accompany that, such as cultural evaluation, skills assessment and a review of internal behaviours to allow for the internal champions to prosper. Now it’s the equivalent of having a great big hotel with a team of chefs that are ready to cook. But the management keep ordering takeaway for all the guests. It’s quicker, it’s cheaper and the guests or customers aren’t too impressed. They feel we’ve cheated, they were promised all this wonderful food on the website, and pretty soon the chefs forget how to cook and over time the cooking methods have become outdated and pretty soon even the ovens stop working and then they have to go and buy new ovens. But by this stage the chefs are ready to retire and they can’t even operate them.

So I guess my point is, I want to clarify that, I’m not saying that consultants and consultancies are bad. I’m focusing on the engagement model. So what are your thoughts on this?

Gerry Gaffney:

Well, I really like the Ramsay’s kitchen nightmare connotations there.

Gerry McGovern

[XXX unintelligible XXX]

Gerry Scullion:

You know, this is not just isolated to returning to Ireland. I saw it in Australia and I’ve seen it in America. It’s something that I’ve… you know, the consultancies come in, businesses believe that they’re paying the top dollar, so they want to get the best results, they’re going to get the best services. And that’s not always the case. And you know, too often I’ve come into organizations and they’re like, oh, we’ve had a big consultancy in here. They’ve done the work, they think it’s great. And then you’d look at it, you’re kind of to go, I don’t know what to do with this. So there’s no continuation of that knowledge stream, it hasn’t filtered back into the organization and the organizations don’t know what to do.

Gerry Gaffney:

Do you know what, I couldn’t agree with you more, Scully and I, I don’t like agreeing with you to this extent, but you know, it has to be part of the DNA of your organization. Buying in that expertise, I mean, I know that there are times when you need to do it right for a multiplicity of reasons, but you have to have user centred design or design thinking or whatever you want to call it, it has to be part of your corporate DNA and your can’t just buy it in, you know, like CRISPR, You can’t just sort of plug it into your DNA and then pull it out when you’re done and pretend that you’ve achieved something beyond your immediate goal.

Gerry Scullion:

I’m not disagreeing with myself here, but when you look at it from the consultancies’ perspective, an organization comes to them, they say, we need you to do this. What are they expected to do, kind of go, “Oh, we’re not gonna do it.” And like, I think there’s an opportunity there to reframe it and say, you know, we can do this, but we also want to make sure that you are going to be self-sufficient moving forward. That’s not happening. You know what I mean? I see consultancies coming in, they work to the SOW [statement of work] and then at the very end of it they’d leave. And too often the people that are left in the business, they feel cheated because they’re like, well I could have done that myself. But they just wanted to get the consultancy and, and the consultancy’s done it. Now I don’t know how to do it because they wouldn’t show me the code or they wouldn’t show me the knowledge, they wouldn’t show me the research. So they’ve got no power. They’ve been disempowered by the presence of this consultancy that comes into the organization. So yeah, these are the things that I’m seeing. I’m not trying to pitch myself, but like any of the type of work that I like to do is go in and, you know, become partners and help build the team, build the capability. And you know, I remember I spoke to Sarah Drummond in Snook and she agrees like that’s one of the, one of the mantras for her organization in Scotland and London is to go in and build that capability so they can be self sufficient in the future. I don’t want to get the call back in two years’ time saying, hey listen, we need you to do another piece of work. They should be able to do this themselves. We should be working towards that.

Gerry Gaffney:

It’s an ethical question as well, isn’t it? I mean good ethics would say that a consultancy should come in and help the organization not only to deliver their short term goals, but to develop and to grow. And if the consultancy doesn’t have that as part of their engagement, then it’s probably not the right consultancy to call in.

Gerry McGovern:

There’s a couple of factors at play there. One of them is the way a lot of large organizations are financially structured that they can’t take on new overhead, but they have budgets to outsource or to bring in, you know, third party or independent. In a lot of big organizations I find are very, very small teams but have significant budgets that they can spend on ad agencies or marketing agencies. So they’re in a very difficult situation because they simply will not be allowed to hire the resource within the organization. But having said that, they’re more in the minority now. I do see a shift over the last five or seven years where organizations really are beginning to build up their design teams and their internal skillsets. I think that’s a major shift. And what you said there, Scully, about, you know, building up capacities, I mean, design agencies that I’m talking to now or UX consultanices are telling me they’re doing more of that, you know, building up capacities and skill sets rather than doing work. So there’s, there’s a lot of stress in… maybe not the big consultancy agencies, but certainly in the UX consultancies where it’s, you know, it’s harder to get work in some ways, you know that, that traditional type of do a project, because a lot of organizations have really accepted a need to build up the capacity, but then you’ve got these other, as I said, strange organizations which have absolute obsession with head count and yet have budget to spend. And it’s hard to build up a capacity in an organization like that because there’s nobody to build it up with.

Gerry Scullion:

Yeah. But it’s also like the increased desire to go quickly and run quickly and get the thing done as quickly as possible because the bottom line is driving that speed and they’re working too quickly too often to spend the time to nurture that learning to be transferred to other people.

And like in the organizations, they’re not doing the workshops, they’re not doing those hand-offs to ensure that like, you know, okay, well look, we might need to be here for another three months because there doesn’t seem to be, you know, a grasp of being able to do qualitative research but we’re going to help you do that so in the future you’re going to be able to do the next one and so forth. It’s almost as if the consultancies are coming in and the businesses are buying that service to reduce risk and like, you know, ironically, by doing that, they’re increasing the risk in the long term.

Gerry Gaffney:

Yeah. To reframe it Scully a little bit, and, you know, I agree with what you’re saying, but it’s almost as if what’s needed, because you know, the big consultancies and the little consultancies, they’ve got their own economic drivers and are their own reasons for behaving in the way they do. And it may be ethical or unethical or whatever, but really it comes down to if the organization hiring that consulting agency has got a capability to be sufficiently sophisticated in their brief and in their tendering process to actually go out into the market and get an agency that will actually serve their needs. So maybe it’s about, you know, another way of looking at it is ensuring that the organization that needs the work has got the ability to specify exactly what they want from an agency and choose the agency, the consultancy accordingly.

Launch and Leave

Gerry McGovern:

So I remember, years ago reading this article about one of the head developers in Gmail and he brought an early version to Larry Page to have a look at it and, and opens it up. And Larry Page immediately says, it’s too slow. And the guy says to him, what do you mean it’s too slow? And Page says, it’s taken 600 milliseconds to load. And your man said, how could you know it’s taken 600 milliseconds to load? He says it’s too slow, make it faster. So the guy goes back to his cubicle and gets his software timer out and it was taking 600 milliseconds to load…

So maybe that’s why Larry Page has been so successful. But then you jump forward a number of years and you see Gmail has become a monstrosity and people are constantly complaining that they’ve got really powerful computers and really big bandwidth and it’s taking ages to delete a document or to archive a document or to practically do anything with Gmail.

And you wonder, well, what has happened? Well, obviously I presume Larry Page is no longer focusing on Gmail and stuff like that. But I was asking people within Google that I’d meet over the years, what’s happening and why, why is that? And they said, well, the culture is changing and Google is becoming just like any other large organization and in any other large organization, the way you move forward in your career is by launching things. And it really doesn’t matter what those things are, once you launch new version. So if you become a new manager of Gmail, you’ll not progress by maintaining and making the current version faster and cleaning up stuff. You’ll only progress in your career if you launch a new version of Gmail. So you’ve got this rat’s race to the bottom of adding features and adding stuff purely to add stuff to people’s resumes.

And that’s the classic launch and leave culture and, you know, these are the metrics that even when you look at an organization like Google which you think is a pioneer in new design and simplicity and all that sort of stuff. And they’re just becoming like everybody else, a bloated, egotistical vain organization where people go around showing off the latest piece of crap basically, that they’ve created that’s actually practically useless but will move their career forward because that’s how people are rated within an organization like Google now. What have they actually created? What have they launched rather than whether, was it actually useful? Did it actually make people’s lives better or did it make people’s lives worse? You know, so it’s so deep that culture because it’s tribal, it’s ancient. The ancient culture of ownership and production and really trying to get to a continuous improvement world demands those new metrics.

I talked to a very senior manager who said, in a very large organization, who said they’ve been changing the metrics in their environment for their IT teams and many other teams that, you know, it used to be that we created this project and we launched it by this date and we did this update and we did this change and they were all measured based on was the update done, did it go through Q &A, were these steps followed. So it was all the measuring the actual production activities and she says now we measured them based on the customer experience that, is the website faster, are these things working better from a usage point of view. So we’re shifting the metrics from production oriented. They’re not getting rid of those metrics, but they’re much less dependent on them, to metrics of outcomes. And I think that’s the way you deal with this problem. You measure the outcome. Nobody seems to be measuring in Google the fact that Gmail would embarrass a snail.

Gerry Scullion:

But in saying that it’s still the preferred email client for most people. So I just don’t think there’s enough competition and that’s me being completely biased. And a disclaimer, my wife works for Google so I’m all in with Google, but I would never move to anyone else. So maybe there’s a bit of complacency has set in, you know, I’m not going to use Hotmail. I mean Gmail or Yahoo, it’s like they’re so far ahead. Even Apple’s mail system, I wouldn’t think of using.

Gerry Gaffney:

Gerry Mac, this is something you’ve been banging on about for years. And I don’t mean that in a negative way that that just sounded, but while you were talking there, it resonated with me because that was… I know one of your recent newsletters, which is this weekly newsletter you do, which is you know, frequently profound and you’re sending that when you measure and reward launches of new things, you get launches of new things and you’ve talked in the past too about, you know, people being rewarded for the number of pages of content that they’ve created. Whereas they should be getting rewarded for, you know, the amount of stuff they take down because that has a direct effect on improving the user experience. But you know, it’s very hard to do that, isn’t it? Particularly, I think if you’re an engineering type of organization because building stuff and making stuff and launching stuff is very easy to measure. It’s pretty graspable.

Gerry McGovern

Yeah. And there’s an old saying that that which is easy to measure gets measured. You know, that often we create a structure around the things that we can easily do and then we justify the metrics that come out of those in the process. But I think, you know, we’re moving into a different world where use is central in the process and you know, Gmail became great because it had a Larry Page obsession with speed. You know, in the early days there were obsessed with these things and they were totally focused on these things and, you know, is it complacency or is it just that all organizations become the same organization over time. A culture. And it wasn’t just… many, many Google employees told me this in a whole range of areas that now in Google it’s all about the project that you’ve launched, the thing that you’ve done, it doesn’t really matter,

Once you get your promotion before it bombs, so to speak, you know, you’re a great person. I think it’s harder absolutely to create those metrics of outcomes. But I think it’s critical to do them because they transform the way people think internally about what their job is. If my job is just to launch the latest update, you know I won’t care that much. But if my job is to ensure that the network that people are downloading the pages in a maximum of three seconds and if I can get it down to a second, I get a big bonus and a clap on the back, well I’m going to be talking about those issues with my dev team and with, with others. But if my job is to launch the update are to write code that’s when I’d be talking and thinking about… The bigger organizations I’m dealing with now are beginning to see those metrics beginning to flow through in their management cycles.

Gerry Gaffney:

Can you give us an example, Gerry, without giving any secrets away?

Gerry McGovern:

Well, one of the, one of them is the kind of talking about Gerry Gaff there, a very big organization that I’m dealing with, how they’re changing the metrics for their IT teams that it was all these project done, has it gone through this Q&A cycle. It was all about doing actual activities, within the technical environment. And now they’re linking them to actual experience elements of the customer. Is there, you know, less returns, is the forms filled out, better accuracy or the less error rates and filling out the forms. Are their pages downloading within a minimum of, you know, 1.2 seconds, you know, so they’re setting all of these metrics now around the experience of the customer. And and I see others beginning at least to try to get there, to look at the outcome rather than just the input. And I think that is that transformative set of metrics that really work better in a digital environment than in a physical environment.

Gerry Gaffney:

It may also counteract the sort of fetishism of change that we see around the place. I don’t know if you guys sort of come across this. I’ve worked with a few organizations where the whole thing of doing something every two weeks, which you know is great in some ways, but it can also become a fetish where, you know, the organization says, oh we’re reorganizing next week and you know, we know change is hard but change is good. Right. And as if change was inherently good instead of thinking well it’s not inherently good.

Gerry McGovern:

Exactly. Well, I bought the German dishwasher Miele or whatever the, and ours was well over 10 years old and when we got the same size, cause it’s kind of a fitted kitchen environment…

Gerry Scullion:

What was wrong with the old one, Gerry?

Gerry McGovern:

It basically wore out…

Gerry Scullion:

Trying to wash those shirts.

Gerry McGovern:

You know, after many, many years it just gave up. So we opened the door of it and God it looks identical and it’s the exact same structure, it’s the exact same. And I for a moment, I went, shit, I paid, you know…

Gerry Gaffney:

Big money for this!

Gerry McGovern:

Big money for this and getting the same piece of… You know, where’s the innovation? And then I thought, you know, okay, the other one was great and there are little innovations in it, you know, that the door, when it’s drying the door it opens a tiny bit. The first one that I come down and says, shit, it’s flooded! The door’s open. I didn’t leave it open last night, you know, and I noticed that it had this little thing that allowed the door open just to get air to dry stuff better and stuff, but basically 90% it looks identical. Now maybe the engine is better. I’m sure it probably is. And it’s a AAA rating so it’s much more economical, but it looks the same thing. And after the first five minute shock, I was saying, that’s great. You know, I was quite, okay, I trust them, you know, cause I trust them to do good stuff and…

Gerry Gaffney:

And to make genuine improvements when they’re changing something.

Gerry McGovern:

Exactly. And I think there’s a market for that as well. You know, that we make it genuinely fast and genuinely… But these require new metrics I think to do. And you know, in the digital realm that instead of these big launch and leaves, we’re continuously improving, but we’re improving speed and you know, stuff that really matters to people rather than the, the shiny stuff that seems to unfortunately get the promotions today.

Gerry Scullion:

Yeah, new logos, new brands, stuff that doesn’t really make a difference to the outcomes that people are looking for.

Gerry McGovern:

Somebody in Google said to me, you can fix 10,000 bugs, but you will never fix enough bugs to get a promotion in Google.

Gerry Scullion:

I’m sure they’re not alone.

Gerry McGovern:

Oh, they’re not. And they’re, there would be ahead of… You know, so you can fix all the bugs in the world. You can do all that stuff. Nobody will ever recognize you anyway and you will never be on a career path for progress. So, you know, something’s broken when that sort of world exists because you know, maintenance is the future, you know, from saving the planet, you know, the, the planet, we’ve killed the planet by constantly producing new crap, new pieces of plastic, new this, new that, our obsession. We got all of these cheaper manufacturing processes and we went wild. It’s like we went to this mad party where there was free cocaine and everything. Not that any of us take cocaine or anything like that…

Gerry Gaffney:

God forbid.

Gerry McGovern:

But free Guinness like all night long. And we just, you know, went mad producing stuff for 40 years and we’ve almost destroyed the planet in the process. And I think the next generation will be a generation of maintenance.


Gerry Gaffney: Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve been around for quite a while now, but I find attitudes I encounter to older users are often incorrect and inappropriate. First of all, let me mention assumptions about technology uptake. Often in conversation with designers, I’ll hear things like older users would be disinclined to adopt some piece of technology, based purely on the designer’s prejudices about that demographic. And you know, of course there are certain applications that are age-specific, but if we’re looking at supporting a regular activity like banking or travel or shopping or communicating, there’s no reason to suppose that an older demographic won’t value and need those services. In fact, if you postulate that an older community is likely to have less mobility, the need to interact online is have even more value and importance to the people in that community.

Then there are assumptions about ability. Designers will sometimes boasted something is so simple that even your parents could use it. To me, the prejudice inherent in such statements is obvious and startling to be honest. For example, most people would consider it unacceptable to say that even a woman could use something or even a blind person could use something, but apparently it’s okay to make the same sort of remark about an older person. There’s a patronizing attitude to designing for older users. I’ve heard designers praise a mobile phone with big text and a limited number of buttons on the assumption that being easier to execute certain core functions is an adequate response to the user’s needs. It’s like praising a highly interactive website that has a flat text-only rendition for visually impaired people, instead of asking why in equivalent level of interactivity isn’t available for those people. Why should an older person to be satisfied with a substandard suite of capability and interactions just because it’s too hard to design for their different needs?

Designers often have the word empathy as a highly used and I would suggest overused part of their lexicon, but it stands for very, very little if they don’t truly try to understand their broader audience and not just the people who are like themselves. There’s no doubt that designing to meet the needs of older people that has challenges. For example, older people are generally less well able to maintain context and task focus when they’re interrupted. They may be slower to recognize one icon among many and so on, but designing to support them helps all users, in the same way that accessible design in general supports all users in general. What do you guys think?

Gerry McGovern: Totally agree.

Gerry Sculliion: I totally agree as well. It’s kind of… I’ve seen it a lot over the years and I don’t think it’s going to go away any time soon, but there’s a few things to your argument like you know, you’ve seen it in design teams making those assumptions and I think as designers we should know better at this stage and this is me speaking, it’s about inclusivity and diversity of thinking and if you’re not including that demographic, you’re almost creating another form of disability.

Gerry McGovern: Absolutely. Isn’t it key? There’s another link thing there in that the actual structure of the team, like what is a multi diverse team? Is it a whole bunch of 20-somethings you know from different backgrounds? I mean, we need older people like ourselves… You’re not going to have that perspective if you’re all a bunch of young people. It’s very difficult to think and particularly, you know, when everyone has pretty good eyesight and stuff like that, you go; “It’s easy to read.” And even in that you still get ridiculous gray text in 8 point font type of brigade because they’re not even thinking about anybody you know, it’s just how does this look. But as you get older, these issues of eyesight and reading become, become more important. And often younger designers, they just don’t think about their audience, they make the central flaw of, of designing for themselves and thinking that the world is them. So, absolutely, if it’s for a large spread audience, you’ve got to design for that audience, not just your narrow little peer group.

Gerry Scullion: Yeah. And I guess I’m being cynical here, but I would love to think that designers had the power to make the control of the scope that’s in question to include that. But too often businesses just look at the bottom line and kind of go, you know what, those guys over there, the older people aren’t, we don’t have the uptake so we’re just going to focus on the customers that are actually using it. And it’s really interesting because I’ve done quite a bit of banking work over my career and too often I see and hear internally in banks, that kind of perspective of designing a new app or any of these kind of sexy new things. Whereas when I speak to my mum, my mum still uses the text function to get her balance and stuff and like she’s very much still in that world of like… tT  hat is an early adopter for her is being able to text it and getting a response from a system, getting the bank balance and what she has.

That’s the kind of service you could see you getting sun-setted in a bank. They’re like, “Oh look, you know, hardly anyone uses it.” So it’s really important to consider how those kind of new designs can actually include those. It’s almost like it’s a huge cultural piece for an organization to get the people who control the scope to include those types of people.

Gerry Gaffney: Yeah. Look, I don’t know what the answer is, what I do know that it seems to me to be a huge gap in the understanding that a lot of people, and I include myself in this, that a lot of people have of that particular demographic and you know, maybe it’s a societal thing, in the West that we don’t interact with old people to extent that  we might’ve done another cultures or in the old days or something. I was looking at a Chinese family the other day getting on a tram in Melbourne and it was one of the older trams and not very accessible. And it was interesting to see the entire family supporting this elderly, she looked like the grandmother, this elderly grandmother in a very, very caring fashion to get onto the tram and find her seat and so on, but it seems so out of place in a Western society to have that older person included as a regular part of society.

Gerry Scullion: I wonder, is that fair to assume that if you had a kind of an inclusive team and that includes not just gender, race, diversity and age, would that type of thinking increase? Like in terms of reducing that…

Gerry McGovern: You know, the, the thing about these demographics… older is the new young. I mean that’s where the world is going. The world is ageing, the populations are ageing and the quantity and percentages of people in the older age brackets is only going to grow, over the next 20, 30, 50 years. So more and more we will be designing for older people whether we want to or not because they will be representing very significant percentages of the population. And often they have income to spend. It’s often a, a good demographic. It’s not something that you’re doing it to do people a favour, they’re often your best customers.

Gerry Scullion: Yeah. The most loyal customers as well

Gerry Gaffney: I think the bottom line for me is that we should, uh, in general, have a quick double check of our assumptions when we’re designing, particularly in regard to that older demographic and make sure that we’re being truly inclusive in our design.

Cool tools

Gerry Scullion: Are UX service designers process and method fashionistas? I’ve seen UX and more recently service design evolve over the last 10 years or so and worked with organizations who adopted whatever process was in vogue at that time, be it “design thinking” or “jobs to be done,” even terms like “user experience” or “experience design” and design thinking and lean UX and lean blah blah blah.

I did a talk for one of the biggest banks in Australia on the importance of service-led innovation before I left. Maybe the come-down of design thinking and what comes next, what follows that. And when I worked at them last, they were all design thinkers and they were all getting educated about  design thinking. But when I was speaking to them before I left, they were moving to a jobs-to-be-done framework and they wanted to know what else they should be doing and what comes after even that.

So I think as an industry and a profession, we’ve become far, far, far too disconnected from the craft of doing. And organizations and more importantly, the designers are latching onto the new methods. So for instance, blueprinting is not an outcome, customer journey mapping is not an outcome, but less mature organizations will look to that as a tick-off on their process. So organizations that are mature will understand that the blueprint is a tool to look and learn and less mature organizations will start creating roles such as customer journey mapper for instance. This cannot only have a negative impact on design and how it’s being procured, but it goes further than enabling organizations to build and design the wrong stuff. It’s a factory line behavior – efficiency over effectiveness and it’s a serious problem. I would love to see designers having less attachments to frameworks and speaking at conferences, for instance, is about a Eureka moment that a certain framework has given them. I’m kind of a little bit over. I want people to start focusing back to the basics.

Designed for the need. It’s the need that we need.

So there you go guys. What do you think?

Gerry McGovern: Totally agree.

Gerry Gaffney: Yeah, you reminded me there Scully, My wife came home from work and she works, in the banking industry and she’s not in user experience, but obviously she’s exposed to it, a lot of the language of user experience and design thinking has permeated the organization. She came home and she said; “customer journeys, zero based design, can’t we just do some effing work?” And I thought it really nailed it for me.

Gerry Scullion: Yeah, I’ve been asked over the years; “Can you just do customer journey maps? That’s all we need.” I’m like, really? That’s it? I’ll give you a piece of paper with some, an example of an end to end user journey and that that’s going to give you what you need to get your job done? It’s not about that.

Gerry Gaffney: It’s almost fetishized, the idea of producing customer journeys are journey maps or whatever you want to call them. As we know they’re an incredibly useful tool, extremely useful tool, but when they are, as you say, an outcome in themselves, you have to look at the organization and say; “What is it that you’re trying to achieve and why do you think that, you know, a, stepping-stone along the way, his somehow magically the outcome that you want to get to?”

Gerry Scullion: Yeah, I mean like I’ve been in workshops with startups and bigger companies and it tends to be a little bit of Innovation Theatre when they whip out the post-its and they kind of roll their sleeves up and they’re like, “Well hey, today’s the day we’re going to be innovative. You know, I can feel it!”

And I always laugh because I’m a natural cynic, but it’s got to be a lot more than that. It’s got to be focusing on what are they trying to achieve as opposed to just having a good day in a creative environment. It’s a cultural piece.

Gerry McGovern: I’ve often wondered why, like why do these things… I think part of the reason is the dislocation that a lot of digital teams have from the actual use of the thing or from their customer. A lot of times you find these in very rarefied disconnected environments and when you’re not, when you’re not close to the action, so to speak, when you’re not seeing people all the time, when you’re not in a shop or you’re not in a restaurant or you’re not out on the farm, you know, instead you’re in studio, things can become very bubble-like very, very quickly. And you know, I think one of the classic ones for me over the years has been the personas that, you know, they create these personas that are totally fictional. Or maybe have one percent of reality in them and they’re beautiful people and you know, and she’s 34 year old and she is the this… and it’s ridiculous and they go to these huge processes and they create 15 or 20 personas. And then they never used them, you know, but they felt, “We’ve done our persona thing now,” and there is that they, “Oh we’re now doing Agile,” you know, because people cling on to methods when they don’t have an understanding of purpose. And it’s back to this, we’re busy, you know, look at the things we’re doing and we’re doing cool things and we’re doing, we’re doing important things and we’re doing new things and you know, we’ve, we’ve now got the hamburger menu on the website. Look how cool we are, look at our redesign and, and stuff like that. So there’s often a lack of purpose in digital teams. I find a disconnect from the customer, the user, the person you’re actually creating it for, that lead you to, you know, as you say the fetish of the latest cool thing and method, we must be cool that we’re…

I remember seeing this cartoon about designers once and it was a black sheep walking down the road and then he walks past this big field and the field is full of black sheep. There is that, you know, everyone wants to be innovative and different and yet everyone wants to be the same, you know, follow the same trends, there’s so little actually, well maybe not so little, but actually real individual thinking or, or thinking that is not dependent on, oh need to be, as you say, in innovative mode or in agile mode or in whatever mode. Actually thinking about the problem and serving the customer. So it’s, it’s, it’s unfortunate but it seems to come every year and they want the latest thing, the latest thing, the latest thing. Actually the core things don’t change.

Gerry Gaffney: But the things that the big consulting companies sell change year on year.

Gerry McGovern: Yeah, because it’s BS. You know, you have to, I mean because a lot of… You wonder when you get inside large organizations or medium organizations, you’ll wonder how does humanity survive? I suppose it’s, it’s like DN, you know, 90 percent of DNA is useless. I think 90 percent of what we do every day, every week is useless. There’s some small group of engineers somewhere in the company doing something, keeping everything going for the other 90 percent that’s just doing crap, like doing agile and doing… because so much activity when you look at it is laughable and you wonder, why are we doing this rubbish? You know, I just hope they’re the sales rep are really selling that top product we have because if we lose that product, everything else we have will just sink down… And that’s what the consulting companies sell into. They’re not selling value, they’re just selling the need to spin the wheels with the latest ridiculous trend of all of you know, whatever that that will churn out a better revenue for them at the end of the month but actually won’t create any value.

Years ago I worked with a guy called Bob McPherson, a Scottish guy here in Melbourne. I remember I was complaining about this sort of thing and he said to me, he said, listen, Sonny, because he was quite a bit older, he said, listen sonny, every night before you go to bed, get down on your knees and thank God for inefficient management because without people like you wouldn’t have a job!

Gerry McGovern: It’s true. Yeah. I’ve often said that as well. In a way, thank God they have figured it out yet, you know, wait it for another 15 years anyway, you know, in the process because yeah, I suppose if we had figured it out 90 percent of humans that be wouldn’t have a job.

Gerry Scullion: The consultancy thing is really interesting because like it goes round in circles and I don’t know if it’s ever really betters the organization and the long term, unless they’re doing some cultural work parallel to it to help upscale and…

Gerry Gaffney: Do you know what though? I think if to the extent and some… I can’t remember off the top of my head who said this to me. Somebody said this to me one time when I was interviewing them they said, you know, it doesn’t really matter what activity you carry out, if it supports your ability to focus on users than it’s a good thing. And I think there’s a, there’s a nugget of truth in there that, you know, underneath the hard shell of all of this stuff and you know, a lot of these things are, you know, whatever’s current to whatever’s the, you know, whatever is popular at the moment, but if it is something you’re doing that’s helping you to focus on users, then there’s a nugget of value in there and a good thing.

Gerry Scullion: I’ve never gone into an organization where when I ask that question said, “No, we’re not focusing on users.” To me, like there’s too much of a disconnect that they don’t assume that they’re not doing it. They all assume that they’re doing it, but what I’m saying is they need to focus on delivering something, like what is it that we’re trying to get? Like if I went to a carpenter, I said, okay, we need a new table. And they came back and they said, okay, well we’re experts at sawing and we’re experts that chiselling and we’re going to give you back potentially a leg and a piece of wood that can only hold a mug, that gives no value to me as an organization or the customer. So I’m saying that as designers, we need to focus less on like, how the hell are we going to do this, and focusing on whatever it is we’re going to ship.

Gerry McGovern: I think we need to go beyond that, even, Gerry, because, you know, we often do measure the shipping of the thing, you know, we ship the table with the one leg, but we shipped it. I think we need to look at it, the use of the thing. How is that table being used? I think that’s the big shift in what digital allows and that, you know, we, we have engines of production in most organizations and we create all sorts of stuff and we ship it and we do it and we produce. But we never measure its use. I think that’s just the big missing equation today is actually so many people who produce never are judged based on how what they produce is used.

Gerry Scullion: Yeah, true. There’s that whole aspect that I mentioned at the start of whenever they’re going through the process and they don’t have that understanding of the methods, for me there’s a real danger there that they’re shipping the wrong things, which kind of aligns to what you’re saying. So they use the methods and the tools. So everyone in their organizations, you know, agrees that they’re doing the right thing, but they don’t have the maturity or the understanding that, you know, when you go meet a customer and the customer is, you know, saying, I thought that this is something they really like something that they’re going to really want, that they build. So I’ve seen stuff in organizations where they build the wrong thing and then they blame design. You know what I mean, the process. We’ve done this. How did we… what went wrong and our process that allowed us to ship this? Yeah, there’s a real, there’s a knowledge gap there between just using the processes and actually just getting the work done to meet the need of the of the person who’s going to use the service or product.

So people can follow the design thinking framework themselves, but they could still build the wrong thing.

Dark patterns

Gerry Gaffney: The term “dark pattern” describes an element that’s designed to trick people into doing something that’s either detrimental to them or that they wouldn’t sort of choose to do knowingly. Usually we’re talking about, you know, online things, websites and apps and so on. But of course that sort of manipulation of people’s behaviour isn’t in any way new. I think of dark patterns as being kind of an anti-hero to the nudge. The nudge was designed to make it easy for people to make a decision that’s favourable to them and we often talk about things like savings and superannuation where people tend to go with the default choice and if you make a sensible default then it can help people make positive decisions for themselves and for society. One of the examples that’s often help up is the way Spain is automatically opt-in for organ donation and accordingly has a very high rate of organ donation. Whereas other countries where it’s opt-out unless you’ve actually opted in have a very low rate of organ donation. So you can nudge people to make, make good choices. But the dark patterns do things that like making it hard to unsubscribe, hiding the options, or they use word choices that make it confusing and tricky when signing up for something you didn’t want to sign up to. An to be honest. I haven’t put a whole lot of thought into this other than occasionally being annoyed by it because I kind of feel from a purely selfish point of view that I can spot them and avoid them.

I had an interaction with an organization in Melbourne where I live. It’s a not-for-profit and it’s an organization that puts on musical events and the like in a fairly formal venue, but they have… there’s an option when you buy a ticket to make a donation on top of the ticket cost and it defaults to $10.

Now presumably some people actually want to donate $10 or more as well as paying for their concert ticket. And I’d certainly consider making a donation myself but for the fact that I feel I’m being tricked into it. Now I did take this discussion onto Twitter a couple of times and most recently I got a response from them that really astonished me. They said that because they’re a not for profit and are accordingly in great need of donations. And they pointed out the fact that the donation was optional was clearly stated in the accompanying text and they said that they had run it past their legal department who said it was okay. Now to me, you know, running it past the legal department is the act of a scoundrel really, isn’t it, because the connection between the legal department and ethical behaviour is not particularly strong a lot of the time.

So let’s put aside the idea of “we explained in the instructions” because everyone knows that when it comes to online forms, putting something in the instructions is, you know, nobody’s going to see it unless they’re already hopelessly lost.

What I wanted to focus on for a minute is the argument that it was okay for them to do it because they needed the money. It was to me it was a bit like Tupac singing “I ain’t never did a crime I didn’t have to do.” You know, there’s a presumption that tricking some people into donating money accidentally will outweigh the detrimental effect of having people who noticed it like me, who will swear to never ever done anything to that organization. In fact, the underlying assumption probably in all dark patterns is that the user is a sucker and there’s one born every minute. I don’t believe that’s the case. Gerry Mac, you often write about the fact that the modern person is more connected, more clued-in and less gullible than ever before, and I think shouldn’t that be a strong enough argument to any organization if it values its brand and its good name and its standing in society it should purge its online and marketing teams of anyone that sort of shows this sort of ethical vacuum in there thinking.

What do you guys think?

Gerry Scullion: Well, the first thing with dark patterns, I always like to bring it back to, is there an intent there? Is it something like… There’s two different sorts of arguments. One, is this designed to intend to sort of, what’s the word I’m looking for, to deceive the user? What do you think? Do you think all of these dark patterns are, you know, are set out to fail people?

Gerry Gaffney: If it’s not deliberate, to me it’s not really a dark pattern. You can do something that causes, inadvertently,you know, you can have your O-rings fail at low temperatures and blow up a space shuttle. It’s not intentional. To me, intentionality is a key aspect of it.

Gerry Scullion: Yeah. I had one there recently with, with Bellroy, the Australian wallet company. I’m happy to talk about them because they… I bought a wallet that was quite expensive, I was treating myself, and got it sent over to Ireland. And then they sent me an email saying, hey, as a sign of a thanks for signing, we want to invite you to partake in a competition where you can win $5,000 worth of our bags. So I did it, but I actually used the G mail hack of putting my email plus, which is a hack if anyone doesn’t know it. So I, I always track to see who’s using my data, if they’re going to sell it on. And sure enough, about two weeks later I started getting emails from, on that email address to Olympus and then to all these other companies and I went back to Bellroy and I said, hey, look, you didn’t explicitly tell me that you’re going to be sharing all my data.

And they’re like, Oh, It was in the terms conditions. In the smallest point text in the terms and conditions it was included. And when I said, well, what are you going to do about this they said, oh, well we’re happy to remove you from our mailing list. I said, I don’t care about your mailing list. I said, I want to be removed from all the companies that you’ve shared my data with and they says we can’t do that. And I mean like that is just, that was one of the worst examples I’ve seen of businesses who actually are just sharing data. They’re not, they’re hiding it. And that was, that was the last big dark pattern that I’ve seen. It’s awful.

Gerry McGovern: Yeah. You know, it’s a constant game as well that, you know, a lot of these, of cultures of, you know, the potential customer’s the sucker, the current customer’s the sucker and it still is… There’s enough suckers out there that if we do clever marketing and all that sort of BS and it does, it does work in a number of areas. But you know, if you look at it in the areas of, of car insurance or stuff like that, or these environments, everywhere… I don’t know if this happens in Australia, but do you know the way you get your, your annual insurance quote out from the car insurance company and they never give you last year’s amount because they’ve always increased it by 50 euros, but they don’t want you to be able to compare between this year and that and they figure out you won’t have a copy of last year’s, so that, you know, they’re poisoning the whole societal view of organizations, that organizations are constantly out to trick you because probably 60, 70 percent of them are.

That’s how they got to senior management positions. But by coming up with dark patterns, you know, type of business models that exploit customers. And then you got the counter things like Slack coming in where, you know, if you’ve got 20 people signed up and five aren’t using they give you a discount, which must be a total head-wreck for the SaaS model companies whose whole business model is having, signing up 250 and only having 100 using the system. I mean, that’s how, that’s how the senior managers make their bonuses and make their, make their targets in a lot of these companies. So it’s a war. There’s a war, you know, as you know, we become better educated… There’s certainly audiences out there that are becoming more savvy and there’s, there’s a growth in education and awareness at one level. But there’s always a bunch of people that are, you know, not watching or are open to being tricked. And you know, I, I think the ultimate dark pattern is what marketers call engagement. Because the engagement is not for good reasons, it’s keep them on the website, get them buying more. I mean, the whole concept of content marketing, etc. Yeah, not, not all of it is dodgy, but a huge amount of it is, you know, selling dodgy products essentially with clever content.

Gerry Scullion: A lot of these businesses you can guarantee that they’ve got a UX department as well and you know, they kind of say, well, if the UX department have looked over this, it must be user centred and must be human centred. That’s the bit that I get and I love the fact that Gerry Gaffney and myself and yourself call these companies out on Twitter, but what, what kind of change we are hoping to see by, by doing that?

Gerry McGovern: The way I think… if you say nothing there’ll definitely be no change. If you say something they’ll probably be no change, you know… And now and then, you might be saying something for 20 years and you know, the 10,000th time you’ll catch a wave, or you’ll initiate a wave or there’ll be another 15,000 people out there that says I have the exact same experience. And you will be the match maybe once in your life, that lights a fire and drives change. So, you know, we see these movements about people owning their data, etc. It’s only by this constant hum and constantly getting on these things that we drive change because the nature of most organizations that I’ve seen on the inside… it’s not that people are malicious, it’s that they see the customer as somebody to be exploited… The essence of marketing is to invent a world for something that is totally removed from what it, from what it actually is as, as a product or service.

Gerry Scullion: It’s a manipulation.

Gerry Gaffney: If you want to see a fantastic example of manipulation, in Australia here we’ve had a royal commission into the banking industry, the requirement for which was fought desperately by the, by the government who didn’t want it to happen, but it did happen and we’ve got the behaviour of particularly the major banks has been astonishing even to those of us who are as cynical as I am. So there’s things like fee for no service, which is a fantastic phrase. And also banks and insurance people, industry insurance companies charging dead people knowingly.

Gerry McGovern: You know, I’ve talked to bankers over the years, delivered strategies. They train people to manipulate older people to get money out of them and they target older people. I mean, there are scammers, and they’re trained to do that. And over the years I’ve noticed the really good people that have helped me in the banks have never progressed in their careers, but the real ugly people, the people who try to sell you crap at every… They’re the ones who get promoted. So the culture is, you know, the scammer gets up to become the CEO or the senior management and the people who actually look after the customers well stay as the local manager because not hitting their quarterly targets and their quarterly targets are based on scams. So, you know, unless we change that sort of culture and you know, I can’t wait for the day that, and I know that Apple are not perfect, but just to, to give it to the banks, to remove our business from them, payback time is coming…

Gerry Gaffney: But Gerry, nobody’s doing that. I was reading an article in the Irish Times yesterday as a matter of fact, I can’t remember who wrote it, but talking about the fact that Irish consumers who have bailed out the banks to the tunes of billions of dollars and suffered through a fairly major recession largely as a consequence of that bailout and are still not changing banks, you know, they’re saying with the same people who screwed them over last year and we’re going to screw them over next year again.

Gerry Scullion: I’ve seen that. I’ve conducted research in this space of Irish banks in the last two months and there’s a big differential between the Australian market and the Irish market as regards to loyalty. There’s like devout loyalty where there’d been nabbed earlier on in their, in their formative years, and, they’ve remained really loyal and they’re like, oh yeah, you know what I’m expecting loyalty in return for, for my long stay with this bank. And they don’t care. Like I don’t see the dial changing.

Gerry McGovern: It’s beginning. It’s beginning. I mean, loyalty is stupidity. The synonym of loyalty is stupidity. And Irish people have been pretty stupid, poorly educated. And you know, I remember many years ago reading these UK supermarket saying the Irish customers are pretty, are much more loyal. In other words, the Irish customers are much more stupid. You know, anybody who’s loyal to any organization is stupid. Either lazy or stupid. I mean the amount of organizations that deserve loyalty are one percent in the process. So basically it’s a lack of education. It’s laziness and a lack of an ability to, you know, to analyze and to compare. And do your research. That is changing, but it’s still 20 years behind Australia. Consumers are 20 years behind European consumers, you know, but it is changing. There’s a building of a change and that the younger generation, but we’re still 10, 20 years behind.

Gerry Scullion: Absolutely.

Gerry Gaffney: I’m not convinced about that Gerry Mac. We’ve got the same sort of inertia here as well in Australia where people don’t move banks. But you know, we’re, very much, it’s a big picture here, we’re talking about a lot of stuff here. I mean, well, I guess the bottom line from a dark patterns point of view is they can be successful in the short term for organizations whose ethics allow you to produce that sort of content.

Gerry Scullion: I think dark patterns is like, it’s the manifestation or it’s the by-product of a really toxic culture, it’s something that they don’t get. And that’s really what we need to focus our attentions on, is really changing the cultures internally and bringing the voice to the stakeholders who can actually help change that culture.

Gerry McGovern: Yeah, and you better hope with your dark patterns that there are enough suckers being born every minute. Maybe the ratio of suckers per minute being born is dropping so it might get to a point where there aren’t enough suckers left for your dark patterns. And when the people have been stung multiple times by you, you may live to regret it in the long term.

Gerry Scullion: Gerry Gaffney, do you want to wrap this up?

Gerry Gaffney: Dark patterns, just say no, as George, one of the George Bushes. No, who said that about the war on drugs? That was Ronald Reagan, wasn’t it? Just say no. Just say no to dark patterns. It wasn’t effective in the war against drugs. ..

Gerry McGovern: On a totally different point we need to change these languages of war and fighting as well.

Gerry Scullion: I’m just surprised Ronald Reagan was into The War On Drugs. I’m really into them, I think they’re a great band.

Hamburger Menus

Gerry McGovern: 00:00 Yesterday I was driving from Dublin to Carlow, so come with me on that drive for a moment and imagine we’re driving down the motorway and there’s no signs, but instead there’s little boxes every 10 kilometres or whatever at the side of the road and they’ve got a hamburger sign on them. And if I want to know how many miles or kilometres is still go to Carlow, which direction to go, I have to have to stop my car, get out of it, open the box, and it says Carlow, 50 kilometres.

That wouldn’t be a very good experience. It wouldn’t be a very clever thing to do, would it? Nobody would do that. But why do we do that on the web? Why do we, you know, hide the navigation from people? Why do we take away control from them?

Well, there’s a couple of reasons why, why we do it on the web. One is we can and we don’t see people crash and we don’t see people being frustrated. We don’t see the cost of stupid decisions that are often made.

Another is that we don’t want people to have control, that some marketer has said, no, I’m going to dominate this page with this latest program I have. Or some senior manager has said, oh no, this thing is the most important thing for us as a company and we don’t really care what the customer wants to do. We want to force them down this path. So imagine that on the drive to Carlow and I’m driving there and there’s no signs for Carlow or Kilkenny or anything like that. But there’s tons of signs from McDonalds and whatever else trying to get me because there’s a marketer has a target to increase the visits to a McDonalds in Kilkenny or something like that.

Well, that’s the way a lot of digital marketers and digital designers think that they can control people’s journey. Now, another reason, a, more legitimate reason is that you know that the vast majority of people want to do one thing. So it’s like you’re a hotel or you’re an airline and it’s book a flight, you know that’s 90 percent. So the next best thing to navigation is actually being there. So instead of having three links, one of them which says book a flight, you actually make the booking process, you know, on the page, it’s immediately doable. So you’re in Carlow straight away, you don’t even have to drive there. Now that’s a legitimate reason where you might hide substantial other quantities where you know, you have clear evidence that 90 percent of people or a very, very high percentage of people want to do stuff…


And finally, why do these things happen? Well they happen often accidentally and they happen because people get bored with design, and they happen because things are fads and you know, often unfortunately designers like shiny new things. Oh yeah. Cool. Yeah, that looks cool. And it’s often for, you know, non logical non strategic, but lemming-like, even though I don’t think lemmings follow each other nearly as much as humans follow each other, trends that are stupid. We’ve been doing this navigation like this for five years. Let’s do a redesign. I mean, how stupid is that? If you went into an airport and said, I really don’t like the way you’ve been doing the exit sign. It’s been like that for 10 years. It’s always red. Let’s change the colour. Let’s give the exit sign a refresh. I mean they’d get kicked out at the airport, they’d get kicked off the motorway. Some things you don’t redesign. I mean they work, and navigation is a particular function of that. If it’s actually getting people there faster, if it’s working really well, every three years, you don’t refresh it because you’ve got bored with Carlow, you’re let’s rename Carlow. I never liked the name anyway. Let’s give it another name every three years just to give it a nice refresh. Nobody would ever do that. But we constantly do those things in digital because we actually don’t really understand the digital, we design for it but enough within it, often. We don’t see the experience people have.

So anyway, that’s my rant on the hamburger menu.

Gerry Scullion: 04:30 So you see like, there’s a bad pattern is what I’m hearing here, there’s a bad pattern that’s emerged that we’ve inherited over the last decade, I suppose. So how did it originate?

Gerry McGovern: 04:43 Yeah, it originated I think in some  hardware mainframe world and it is, like you said, Gerry, you know, there’s good memes and there’s bad memes, there’s viruses that get infected into digital and there probably was a reason, but you think of it, you know, Oh, we need more space…

And it particularly came in obviously in mobile, we need more space. Mobile is a small space. So what did we take away? Oh, we’ll take away the most critical thing to people, you know, so that we can have that big picture of a smiling fake face pretending to be a customer, you know, in the process and Luke Wrobleski in Google has shown in study after study, after study, you hide navigation, you reduce all the good things you want to do, selling stuff, getting people to do… You hide the navigation, you take away it control from people, less stuff happens on your site.

Gerry Scullion: 05:47 It’s funny because the metaphor of using the signpost is brilliant, but it’s almost from what I’m hearing it’s more like taking away the steering wheel in the car… because it’s directing you where you need to get to and you’re, you’re kind of removing that step.

Gerry McGovern: 06:00 Yeah or you have to go and find the steering wheel or unlock the steering while. It’s like that concept of either facilitating control, figuring out, I want to go to Carlow and I’m not going to go to Cork and I’m not going to go to McDonalds because I have to get to Carlow. You know? It’s that sense of treating people as independent actors rather than treating them as somebody you can convince to do something that they don’t want to do. And I’m not saying you can’t, that There aren’t subtleties of showing them interesting stuff, but if they want to go to Carlow, if they want to get a product, if they want to do troubleshooting or whatever, you know, that’s what they want to do. And that’s, I think that’s a core principle that we need to buy into, that we design with people to allow them to take control rather than to try and control them.

Gerry Sculliion: 06:59 So Gerry Gaffney, I remember we worked together a couple of years ago and I remember Gerry Gaffney saw the hamburger in one of my interfaces, I don’t think I’ve ever been hit that hard actually come to think of it. But it’s quite funny because I never used it after that. It’s almost like it becomes second nature when you, when you’re doing mobile screens and you’re, you’re trying to do it fast prototypes and you’re trying to get that sort of that feedback quick and ready. You just be kind of, you expect it to be there. So what, what are your thoughts on the learned experience over time? So the likes of people who were 16, you know, 10 years ago are now 26. I’m great at maths! And they might have learned that experience of the hamburger equals menu.

Gerry Gaffney: I reckon the learned experience meme is bullshit to be honest. Look, to play devil’s advocate, I’m looking at my NAB, which is a local bank here, looking at the app and they’ve got a hamburger menu up the top left. And really it’s relatively well done because I’m in NAB, I can see my accounts and the balances of them and if I click on any of those accounts where the options up there is Pay. So practically everything that I ever do is accessible to me without going to the hamburger. But you know, people, the learnability thing I think is, you know, is a little bit of a false perception. I see it a lot with, you know, a lot of developers. I think use-centred designers as well, they say, oh, well, you know, everybody knows how to use the hamburger, everybody knows what it means. I’ve made a point in usability test sessions and when I’m out and about observing people either formally or informally, using things, I say, What are those three lines? And quite often from relatively sophisticated users, the answer is I don’t know. And even for people who do know what it is, it’s so effective at hiding whatever you want to have in there that, you know, essentially you’re taking it away. But what’s the solution to this, you know, on a, particularly on a smaller screen the hamburger is very efficient.

And you can argue that if you add the word menu…

Gerry McGovern: But Gerry, you gave the answer there in your bank, the page is navigation, you know, your page is not an image, it’s not a useless thing. It’s your account and you can transfer. So what, what that bank has done is they’ve dominated at the centre of the screen with navigational components that are the top tasks for you. And that’s okay. You know, that the other stuff which is the long tail, you have to hide it in the process. So it’s not hard, an exercise of saying, well what’s the top three things that really… okay, so they want to transfer money, they want to check… and even cleverer, like as I said, well what’s the next better thing to a good signpost? It’s been there. It’s that when you open up your app it says, your current account has $60,000 in it, because they know you’re always checking your account balance. They don’t even wait, they actually bring it to the front. So doing that sort of stuff, that’s fine. And then you hide the stuff that’s really low demand. But in many cases the hamburger hides the high demand stuff.

Gerry Scullion: 10:14 So you’re saying is it more… It’s less about interface design and more about information architecture is what I’m hearing. It’s more like the problem needs to be solved in the architecture of the system as opposed…

Gerry McGobvern: …I suppose the problem needs to be solved in truly understanding why somebody is here and what, what it is that they want to do. And if they’re coming to a bank and you know that people are always checking their balance. Clever banks now are bringing the balance figure even before the login in your app so that you get your balance figure. You don’t even have to log in and there are legal implications that I’d accept. But there are ways around it in apps and things like that so that you really, you’re designing for getting them there quickest, that the thing that matters most to them. And you know, you hide the stuff that needs to be hidden. But often in this hamburger model you’re hiding the core stuff because you’re pushing a marketing campaign or you’re… You’re taking away control. Once you’re always, you know, designing from a point of view of let’s put people in control, then good things happen.

Gerry Scullion: 11:26 Yeah. There is the risk that it becomes a little bit more of a dumping ground, like within that hamburger…

Gerry McGovern… It does. When you don’t have to think about it, the hamburger often becomes that dumping ground because, Ah we’ll will put all the navigation in the hamburger. So then it becomes a classical dumping ground. So it’s like you have to think and say, well what’s the top three things? And then you have a “more” link or something for the other stuff in the process.

Gerry Gaffney: So is it ever okay to use a hamburger menu in your design?

Gerry McGovern: Well I think it’s the idea of… What is it? It’s a hiding device. So if you have the overwhelming task, like book, a flight or Google Maps, and the map begins in the process, then you know, that can be suitable. But even you see in Google Maps, you see, you see the map and then at the bottom you see restaurants or stuff, you’re seeing those top things that… Because I travel an awful lot, so I’m always using Google Maps to get places or walk or stuff like that or you don’t. And I’m often looking for a restaurant and so even the dominant task has often these really important sub tasks in that task. But I think you will always use some sort of navigation to hide the minor stuff. You know, there is stuff you want to hide, but you need to make sure that it’ll be at level three or level four, but you need to make sure that it’s the right stuff that you’re hiding and you’re not hiding the critical stuff to the customer.

Gerry Gaffney: 13:07 So you’re OK if we use a hamburger menu, as long as the primary navigational purposes and primary tasks are covered off in the, in the screen without using that hamburger.

Gerry McGovern: Yeah, and I would just call it “more” as well, Gerry, because you know, as you’ve all found [that] hamburgers that actually have the word “menu” in front of them performed much better. Why do we need, if you’re going to have an icon, you really need a word. I mean icons on their own are rarely… But that’s another discussion. But why not just say, you know, you’ve got transfer money, your account and then “more”, you know. So the “more” is all the… and you can call it a hamburger or whatever, but often a word is a more clear form of helping people get to the other stuff than an icon.

Gerry Gaffney: 14:03 I know that people will put the argument that the Scully put earlier on or, well not as an argument but a proposition that people learn what the hamburger means so we don’t actually need the word “more” in there, or “menu” or any word like that.

Gerry McGovern: But we shouldn’t be… It’s not school. You know, we’re not, we’re not teachers, you know, it’s not… Like I could have learned early on, how to, you know, light a wicker lamp, but I preferred to electricity. You know, I don’t want to light a wicker lamp. I don’t want to go through six steps to turn the light on. I prefer to turn it on in one step if you made it easier for me.

Gerry Scullion: What I’m hearing here is, if your prominence in your navigation on your patterns that you’re using is more about using the hamburger, You move away from that and use more supporting links within the interface itself to understand the journey is that…

Gerry McGovern: 15:00 I think it’s the philosophical principle of, how do we put people in control… And maybe it’s a search box that dominates. Sometimes I see environments, in very, very complicated environments, mega, mega, mega websites that, you know, searching everything like Google. It’s a search box because the architecture is so complicated. You know, there is no top tree in the process. There’s so many, you know, there isn’t a clarity, so then you need to focus on the search box, but the search box better work, you know. If you’re going to dominate the structure with the search box in the process, you really have to have an invested in a quality search. A by dominating with the search I don’t mean that you neglect the architecture, it’s just that the architecture is so complicated, there aren’t a top three or top four that stand out in the process.

Gerry Scullion: 16:02 It’s funny because I’ve had the argument, you know, obviously Gerry Gaffney hit me very hard to couple of years ago when I used it last, but I remember at that time some of the other visual designers and the team were like, well, you know, if Amazon are using it… And Amazon do use it and that’s the most successful website on the Internet. So what advice would you give to designers?

Speaker 1: 16:23 if you see, so many of them are moving away from it, you know, Luke Wroblewski again, loads of data of when they move away from it. And if you notice now, a lot of sites are bringing in either the bottom nav, obviously the bottom nav for mobile, because it’s close to the thumb and stuff like that. But there’s a huge shift away from that menu because it doesn’t work. And all the evidence, all the evidence out there, I mean, one site that Google worked with, 600 percent increase in activity on the site after they introduced a navigation. So there’s tons of data that shows this doesn’t work… And we copy bad practice and stuff gets embedded in the environment, sometimes for the wrong reasons. So if we’ve got evidence that it’s working, it’s working, but the evidence, all the evidence, all the evidence I’ve seen is that it doesn’t. And I think if you look at the Facebooks, look at all the environments… There’s a minor argument that it still should reside in the mobile environment if you’ve got those dominant tasks and you put them on the page. But certainly on the desktop, it’s a crazy, it’s a crazy solution.

Gerry Scullion: I’m looking at my own website here and I think, I think I might change…[Laughter.] But I’ve got the word “Menu” beside it… so I’m not totally dead…

Gerry Gaffney: We’ll forgive you.

Gerry McGovern: For now. We’re coming back next week after you, Gerry!