Measuring our carbon output

Screenshot of our website carbon calculator
Reading Time: 2 minutes

The carbon costs of “digital” are not well understood.

How many emails have you received with “Consider the environment before printing this email” in the signature?

How many have you received with “Consider the environment before hitting Reply All to 26 random people” and adding “Thanks”?

For many people, “virtual” means “not real”.

As in, almost literally, non-existent.

Terms like “cloud” don’t help.

The reality is, the internet is the biggest machine humanity has ever built. It circles the entire planet.

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On alternatives

Reading Time: < 1 minute

This is for everyone

Tim Berners-Lee

As a content author myself – I am, actually writing this, with fingers – I know it can be hard to choose how to provide alternative text for non-text content.

Do you go full-on and launch into a full description of the image? Or is just a brief alt=”cat” sufficient?

Delicate white blossoms against blue sky.
Tree blossom

So, how would you choose to describe this image to someone who can’t see it?

I gave it a <caption>Tree blossom</caption>, and alt=”Delicate white tree blossom against a clear blue Spring sky”.

Is that perfect? Probably not.

I don’t pretend to understand the lived experience of people whose experience is not like mine.

Then I stumbled across this article on the w3c website.

And I thought, “this looks handy“.

And it is.

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The exporting experience: one year on

Reading Time: 5 minutes

At the end of March this year, my colleague Katie wrote a post about some work she had been involved with to improve the exporting user journey on scottish-enterprise.com.

She included some analytics data that seemed to indicate some significant improvements. But she only had 3 months’ worth of data, which makes it hard to draw any firm conclusions.

So we thought now, with a year’s worth of data, would be a good time to look back on what’s changed, what worked, and any opportunities for further improvement.

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How to create accessible Word documents

Reading Time: 7 minutes

First, some definitions

An accessible document is a document that people with a range of physical and cognitive impairments can read and understand.

An accessible document is, typically, also a document that people with no physical or cognitive impairments can read and understand better, and faster.

Also typically, an accessible document is easier for content authors to maintain. Because it uses tools that are baked in to Word and other MS Office applications to support accessibility and improve workflow.

So, here are some tips on creating accessible Word documents.

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A story is the promise of a conversation

Reading Time: 2 minutes
Illustration of how much we know about a user story over time.

In agile development the whole point of a story is … well, it’s a story.

It illustrates an instance. It illuminates an essence.

It tells a story.

There is a user. An actual person, who needs to get stuff done. A hero.

They probably need to get other stuff done too. This, whatever that is, is just one thing on their neverending to-do list.

Their reasons could be very simple or very complex.

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Preparing for Brexit

Reading Time: < 1 minuteI’ve been a small part of a team working on a new digital service to help Scottish businesses prepare for Brexit.

PrepareforBrexit.scot is an effort from all the agencies and organisations in Scotland’s public sector to help equip our businesses with the tools they’ll need to anticipate and deal with any shocks caused by the UK leaving the EU.

Mostly, my focus has been on analytics, helping colleagues newly drafted into that area to get on top of their game.

The site launched on 1 November. The data should become richer over time.

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You can do things, or you can get things done

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Imagine you work for an organisation where, on average, people have six things on the go at any given time.

Let's assume that, again on average, each of those things takes a week of your effort to get done.

Given that – and it doesn't feel too outrageous – we should be able to deliver a thing a week, shouldn't we?

But that doesn't seem to happen in real life. Why not?

Well, essentially, we have two choices: we can do things, or we can get things done.

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Fidelity increases as uncertainty decreases

Graph showing how the fidelity of your product increases as uncertainty decreases, but asymmetrically

Reading Time: 3 minutes

No, this is not a couples counselling site.

I and others on my team have had a lot of discussion recently about what we are doing, why we're doing it, what we can test and why we are testing it.

In an agile team, this is healthy. As long as the discussion remains respectful, talking is great, because we need to reach a consensus, agree a course of action, and commit to it. As a team.

We may not all be 100% convinced that what we're doing is the right thing to do. But we all agree to do our best to achieve it, even if (sometimes) our motivation is to demonstrate that it was the wrong thing.

But you can only demonstrate that by doing the wrong thing right (if you see what I mean).

I saw this on Twitter this evening.

Then I did this recalulation.

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We need feedback

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Yes, we do.

But what do you mean?

We need to understand why those users don't engage further with our content. We need to get in front of them and ask why they think the way they do. Why aren't they engaging with our content?

A feedback loop
A feedback loop

If those users are 6,000 miles away, that's going to be pretty expensive feedback. Sure, it will be valuable, qualitative feedback. 

But it won't be the most valuable feedback we can get.

Because what people say and what they actually do are two completely different things.

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What digital transformation really means

Taking a digital photograph

Reading Time: 3 minutes

First, the bad news: it doesn't mean everyone gets an iPad.

Digital transformation isn't about technology, it's about the change the technology enables.

Think about the railways in the 19th century. You didn't have to be Robert Louis Stevenson to understand that being able to get from Edinburgh to London in day, rather than a week, was a game changer. 

You don't have to be able to design the train, or even ride it, to benefit from it.

Let me give you a picture.

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Why users do what they do, when, where, how, and what they do it with

Storyboard showing people using mobile devices while commuting, or in social situations

Reading Time: 3 minutes

OK, so that's a long title.

It's why we use a bit of jargon in user experience (UX).

We call "why users do what they do, when, where, how, and what they do it with" context of use.

It's a crucial piece, or, rather, set, of information.

If you know who your users are, what they're trying to get done, why the want to do it, and how they will interact with it – including the environment and circumstances they're in – you will have a really clear picture of what your product or service needs to do to make that happen.

It's critical to know, because – well, basically, if you don't know this stuff, failure is an absolute certainty.

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Towards agile UX

Reading Time: 4 minutes

So I recently studied for, and sat, the exam for, the CPUX-F qualification*.

It stands for Certified Professional for Usability and User Experience (that's the UX bit), if you really want to know.

It was interesting, though not novel; most of it was just formalising knowlege I and my colleagues have already acquired, willy-nilly, over the years.

Here's what the process look like.

The human-centred design process
The human-centred design process

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Designing for mobile first

Reading Time: 3 minutesWe recently released a Beta version of our export health check diagnostic.

It’s a simple thing that asks you 7 questions with yes or no answers. You can run through it in 2 minutes.

We know this, because we tested it through a rapid series of iterations. We made a prototype, put it out for testing and changed it the next day based on what we had learned the night before.

In the space of a week we had something we knew worked well, that people could use comfortably and delivered something of real value.

Export health check
Export health check (desktop version)

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Embrace uncertainty

Rhinoceros

Reading Time: 4 minutes

OK, here's a quiz

I was going to write some whizzy code for this, but then I thought: be agile. What's the quickest, cheapest thing you could do to test this idea?

So I'm going to trust you.

All I'm asking is that you read the question and answer it without thinking too hard about it … your gut instinct is what I'm after.

Take no more than 10 seconds to reach a conclusion.

Otherwise, I may have to write some whizzy code to stop you from cheating …

Question

You have £100 to invest. You decide to invest it in a bank account that pays 1% interest per day.

After 1 year, how much money will you have? Scribble it down. Right now. Doesn't have to be on a post-it.

(And it would be great if you could tell us your estimate in the comments at the end of the article.)
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