Telling a story

Reading Time: 2 minutes

In my experience, service design is mostly about telling – and selling – stories.

Telling the stories of people we’ve met through user research. Understanding what makes life difficult for them, and adjusting our approach to accommodate what they need.

Telling these stories helps us make sure our UX designers and developers and content designers can update our services in ways that accommodate those needs. And mostly, that works out fine.

But sometimes, we have to sell a story.

Selling a story

When we sell stories, we’re talking about the future. Where we want to be in 6-12-18 months. A possible future.

That’s where storyboards are useful.

Storyboards

A storyboard looks like this.

A 3x2 storyboard illustrating the steps set out below. The frames mix real photographic backgrounds with illustrated simple figures overlaid on top.
Storyboards illustrate a story and bring it to life for stakeholders.
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How to create inclusive personas, without creating inclusive personas

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I watched a webinar earlier today about creating inclusive personas to encourage accessible, human-centred design. The instructors talked about the disabilities people have, the assistive technologies they use, and how to create inclusive personas that describe those needs.

A young man with brown skin and dark, cropped hair. He is wearing glasses, and a navy blue jacket over a grey t-shirt. His hands are held in front of his body in a pose that suggest he is in the middle of explaining something.
A portrait we used in one of our personas. This is a real person, who we’ve supported. No AI, no stock images.

And that’s all great, and laudable. But, with all my experience, I am not convinced it’s always the right approach.

Let me explain.

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Go with the flow

Reading Time: 4 minutes

I’ve been working on a project lately with a small team and a similarly select group of Scottish Enterprise account managers to create a slicker way of bringing businesses into their portfolio.

It’s a bit of a pathfinder project, to figure out how we might use Microsoft Power Platform technologies to deliver new services at scale and at speed.

So we settled on this one aspect of our High Growth account managers’ service to start with: getting new clients onto their portfolio.

The solution we’ve developed involves Power Pages (client-facing) and Power Apps (backend) developments, both reading from and writing to the same database, and all of this data is ultimately available in our CRM system.

All of which is fine. But, as a Service Designer, I instinctively want to be open and transparent about the data we gather. And the Digital Service Standard kinda demands that we are.

I struggled with this for a while. I wrestled in the swamps of the Dataverse against PowerBI, and the best I could come up with was this:

Figure 1: screenshot of a Power Bi dashboard taken on 4 April 2024

(Actual people’s actual names have been scrubbed out in this screenshot because they’re actual people. But all the data is real, and right now.)

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On colours

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Some readers may have noticed that Scottish Enterprise launched a new brand identity recently.

Our logo was updated, and our typefaces and colour palettes changed.

I’m not a marketer, so that’s not my domain and I have nothing to say about that.

But I am a designer. And, when you’re designing communications material, whether it’s a website, an app, a brochure, a poster, a letter … these things matter. They are constraints you have to design within.

And yet, you have to produce an experience that’s accessible.

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Joining the dots from intent to outcome

An intent to outcome diagram for the findbusinesssupport.gov.scot
Reading Time: 3 minutes

As a service designer, a large part of my job is making sure everyone on the project sees and understands the same picture.

We all need to have a shared understanding of:

  • why we’re here
  • what we’re trying to do
  • the outcomes (changes in the real world) we want to see

That sounds easy, but in reality it’s not. Everyone has their own perspective: designers, developers, content designers, architects, security people, product owners … everybody comes at the problem with their own priorities and experiences, their own preferences, language, biases and assumptions.

We can have hours of discussions and endless workshops to thrash these conflicting worldviews and languages out. Thousands of unmourned post-its may be lost in the process.

So one day, back in 2019, when I was working on the very early days of findbusinesssupport.gov.scot I decided we needed an authoritative way to describe and demonstrate our purpose.

In my experience at that time, it really helps to have a big reminder of “this is why you’re here” every time you enter the workplace. (It was ‘real’ then, it’s (mostly) virtual now.)

So I came up with this:

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On calculating carbon

Reading Time: 2 minutes

I had an interesting conversation today with a couple of colleagues from VisitScotland. They had come across our web estate carbon calculator, and were interested in replicating our approach.

Screenshot of a dashboard showing estimated carbon emissions for 3 websites run by Scottish Enterprise.

I had already indicated in the response to the invitation that I had reservations about how useful this approach is. So it was an interesting chat.

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Operating in the open

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I’m not actively involved with the findbusinesssupport.gov.scot team any more. But it’s still a service close to my heart.

I was part of the team that designed and built it in the midst of a global pandemic. And which suddenly learned, unwarned, that we would be the primary vehicle for the Scottish Government’s response to the emergency for businesses.

We were still in Beta in March 2020, so we were just routinely publishing all the data we had about usage. But, as we – de facto, if not officially – became a production service due to necessity, we just continued to do so.

Screenshot of search and filter data from findbusinesssupport.gov.scot from Sep-Oct 2023.
Screenshot of search and filter data from findbusinesssupport.gov.scot from Sep-Oct 2023
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WCAG 2.2

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WCAG 2.2 is now a standard.

That means it’s (probably) now the de facto default against which your website or apps will be judged if a case is brought against you.

Although I would guess most jurisdictions will give you 6-12 months to catch up, depending on the scope of your organisation.

Update your accessibility statements, if you need to. Basic standards are still:

  • Perceivable
  • Operable
  • Understandanle
  • Robust

Under the hood, not much has changed. Biggest updates are on :focus styles, and the visibility of focused elements. Oh, and authentication. Not being able to rely on cognitive challenges is going to be a big change for many organisations.

On twitter

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A screenshot of my Twitter account on 6 October 2023

I rarely use twitter (I refuse Musk’s nomenclature) any more. There are more than enough fascists in real life.

But I saw some posts on Mastodon about how the site has removed headlines from links to news sites. So thought I’d have a look.

The #a11y implications are terrible. There is no link text any more, just an aria-label attribute on an <a> element.

But these also have tabindex=”-1″ meaning, for keyboard users, you can’t focus links using the tab key.

Images have empty alt attributes.

Screenreader users can probably still find them by asking their AT for a list of links.

But many people navigate websites primarily with a keyboard for reasons other than blindness or low vision.

Although this was … not unexpected … it’s still just so disappointing. Twitter had a very good and very active accessibility team who did a lot of good work. They were all fired.

Twitter is degrading its #UX –intentionally – to fulfil the whims of an oligarch.

I’ll not be back.

Joining the Federation

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The Federation log from the original Star Trek

I’ve updated this blog to use the ActivityPub protocol.

ActivityPub is the decentralized networking protocol that powers social networks including Mastodon, NextCloud and PixelFed.

If you are a user on any of these platforms, you can follow this blog at @blog@design.scotentblog.co.uk

Providing text alternatives for non-text content

Reading Time: 6 minutes

I recently ran a session with some of our content developers covering alternative text, and the difference between alt text and captions. It seemed to be well received, so I thought I’d write it up.

A screenshot of HTML code showing markup for a <picture> element
Modern web design includes a variety of techniques to provide text alternatives for non-text content. In this example, a <figcaption> provides additional context,

“Text alternatives” is the first guideline of the first principle of WCAG 2.1. It’s literally the first thing to think about – and the reason why is pretty simple: not everyone can see images.

That may be because they have a vision disability. But it could also be because the image has been deleted, renamed or moved. Maybe their network connection is poor. Or their browser doesn’t support the format. Or they have disabled images in their email client because they have a 500MB monthly limit.

Whatever. It happens. Text alternatives are what users rely on when images are not available. Like this one right here:

This image is not available

The alternate text needs to replace the image. So your question becomes very definite:

What text do I need to provide if this image is not available? How might I describe the appearance, purpose, function, or meaning of this image to someone who can’t access it?

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Running an asynchronous retrospective

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The good, the bad, and the ugly

I seem to have been running a lot of retrospectives lately. And yes, I just used an Oxford comma. Get over it.

A simple, childlike image of a sailing boat on a choppy sea. The boat is held by an anchor hooked on rocks beneath the waves. There are wind puffs behind it and rocks in front of it. To the right of the images an island with a palm tree, with the sun overhead.
In the sailboat retrospective format, the boat represents the project or work we are doing; the wind is what is pushing us forward, the anchor what is holding us back. The rocks are dangers/risks we face, and the island is the goal or destination. I created this template in Miro.

In case you don’t know what that means, a retrospective (or a ‘retro’ for short) is a meeting-come-workshop where you look back on work you’ve done, as a team, and try to identify ways you could be better in future.

In agile methodologies, you can hold retros pretty regularly. With Scrum, you’d hold one at the end of every sprint – typically every 2 weeks – so you can get feedback quickly and adjust course immediately.

Think guiding a canoe through rapids; if you can’t change course quickly, you are going to hit a rock (a fairly common metaphor for retros uses a sailboat, as above) pretty soon, and pretty fatally.

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Service landscape maps: seeing the bigger picture

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This is a service landscape map.

A service landscape map -click the link for full-size version.
Service landscape maps depict the different stages users go through when accessing a service as connected blobs, with the activities they do as circles within those blobs. It also captures who the external users are – the end users of the service and those who act in their support – the things users do to achieve their goals, the teams of people who deliver the service and are granted some power or authority within the system, and supporting organisations that also have a role to play in meeting user needs.

Services rarely, if ever, exist in a void. They exist within a context. A landscape.

Service landscape maps capture and illustrate that wider context and allow us to see the complexity at play, and to develop a better understanding of the user’s whole experience.

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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

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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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Make the service standard work for you

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The way service assessments work is changing.

As a service designer, I was initially wary of service assessments.

I feared they might be burdensome and bureaucratic when we needed to move fast.

In reality, the opposite was true.

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How to deliver agile projects to a deadline

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You can’t.

Agile projects deliver when they cross a quality threshold.

If you hit a deadline, or met a budget, without crossing that threshold, you weren’t agile.

It’s that simple.

Measuring performance

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FindBusinessSupport.gov.scot launched as a public Beta on 22 January.

Measuring how our service is performing is very important. So is being transparent about that.

We’ve had analytics in place since day 1.

So here’s the numbers.

dashboard showing analytics for FBS from January to February, users, new users, page views, engagement, goal completions, refereeals to partners sites, conservion rate, device and browsers usages