There are still comparatively few women working in science and technology. Recent studies show that only 23% of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) professionals are women, and 27% of these are likely to leave their job within the first year.
So, why aren’t more women entering and remaining in science and technology? What’s causing this gender gap?
Geeky Girl Reality is a longitudinal, independent research project looking at how women’s experiences influence their interests in science and technology.
We’re drawing on data from a spring 2016 survey of 163 women between the ages of 15-46 from 16 countries around the world.
From their stories, we learn about the effects women’s experiences have on their pursuit of higher education in science, technology, engineering, and maths. We have discovered some interesting insights.
Having a plan
To start, we’ll take a look at our participants’ early life experiences and how their plans are affected by their childhood interests or mentors.
Our data indicates that career paths are influenced very early on by childhood interests. One participant said that, “One of the main reasons why I am so involved in math and CS [Computer Science] now is because I was exposed to both subjects at a very young age.”
This trend can be seen from the bar graph below, which compares our survey participants’ childhood interests to their 10-year plans.
On the horizontal axis, each childhood interest is listed along with a bar representing the corresponding 10-year plan responses. The pink bars are the percentages of women planning to pursue a STEM career; the green bars are the percentages of women planning to pursue a non-STEM career, or there was no indication of a career plan.
Those who had technology or science-based childhood interests were more likely to plan for a science or tech career
At least 52% of respondents with an interest in technology or science as a child had a 10-year plan involving a STEM career. This rose to 76% for those with an affinity for tech.
The 33% of young women who lacked exposure to science or technology said they were more likely to go into other areas instead.
Having a mentor
Childhood interests were not the only early life factors affecting their career choices. Mentors also played an important role in their plans for the future. According to one of our participants, “[My mentor] has taught me a lot about being a woman out in the real world and has helped me choose what I want to do.”
We can see this by comparing their mentors (on the horizontal axis) to their 10-year plans.
More than half of women with no mentor or with an unrelated male mentor did not plan to pursue a STEM career. By contrast, women with an unrelated female mentor were the most likely to pursue STEM, with 68% of them indicating a STEM-related career plan.
It appears that women are most encouraged when they have another successful woman as an inspiration. It’s possible that male mentors are not as easy to relate to, and made them feel like they didn’t belong in the relevant fields.
Getting more women interested in STEM careers
There are a number of steps we can take to get more women in science and tech:
Talk to young girls about science and tech to give them the opportunity to explore those subjects from a younger age.
Encourage the women you know to become mentors for other women and girls who are just starting out on their career paths. If you’re a woman in science or tech, consider becoming a mentor yourself.
Establish a mentorship program within your organization to empower female employees in science and tech.
Implement more science and tech courses in early education to increase young girls’ exposure to these fields.
We can change the future if we work together.
This has just been the start of our exploration into the experiences of women in science, technology, engineering, or maths. Keep an eye out for more posts as we look at other influences affecting women’s careers.
Andrea Lewis, Sabah Rahman, Raiya Al-Ansari
Cruz, E. (2016, July 27). The Gap Between Women and Men in STEM and What You Can Do About It [Web log post].
UX is often referenced as a buzzword. In a world where Digital strategy is on every lip, where can we fit UX? Is it the ultimate solution for IT departments? Can it make our products better, faster, stronger without being harder?
I came around UX about three years ago when I started working for Ad Hoc Global. Because of my dyslexia, I continually made reference to User Experiment rather than User Experience for UX (It would agitate my managing director). However, the more knowledge on UX I acquired, the easier it was for me to justify it.
Throughout life, a human being has both good and bad experiences. One thing that triggers these experiences are experiments. A risky action that moves one individual from a comfort zone to the unknown. Once you get there, the unexplored land becomes your experience, a unique selling proposition for most of the companies. “We have to improve our customer experiences.” How many times have you heard this during a pitch? Iterations through carefully designed experiments give fine-tuned insights into creating experiences. It can be browsing through your latest application or reading signs while driving.“What if I experiment following a sat nav rather than planning my trip ahead? Will my experience become more positive?” UX will make your experiments a success and your experience powerful.
Renowned psychologist Daniel Kahneman writes that part of our brain makes quick decisions without using intense reflex efforts. Based on this, I see UX as a way to better utilize this part of the brain. To quote another successful writer, and another Daniel, D.H. Pink, we are in a caveat information situation where the user and the product have the same information at a precise instant. We perform actions knowing what to expect. We are no longer lost with a product and prepared to make the next step in the unknown. Hence, users become the center of discussions. The focus shifts from what the technology allows us to do, to what we want to do in a particular situation. Features are optimised and through end eyes paths toward final goals are defined. The world becomes a two-way communication system with inputs from both sides.
In the end, heuristic reviews are performed, usability is improved, architectures become more intuitive, returns of investments maximise, strategies are in adequation with audiences, risks are managed. Your experiment is an achievement and experiences become memorable. This is the power of UX.
Dr Daria Kuss is a Chartered Psychologist and Senior Lecturer in Psychology and a member of the Psychology Division and International Gaming Research Unit at Nottingham Trent University.Shehas earned herMaster’s degrees in Cognitive and Clinical Neuroscience and Media Culture, and a Ph.D. in Psychology. She has published prolifically in peer-reviewed journals and books, and her publications include 30 peer-reviewed journal articles, numerous book chapters, two authored books, and over 30 international conference presentations. In 2015, Daria has been found to be among the Top 10 publishing academics at Nottingham Trent University, and has won the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health Best Paper Award 2015 for her research on online social networking. Her previous experience working with clients suffering from behavioural addictions and other mental health problems in Germany has allowed her to foster her interest and skills in psychotherapy and clinical psychology.
We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to ask Daria a few questions and gather an insight into her research:
What first drew you to researching the relationship between psychology and the internet?
DK:I started off researching gaming. Initially, I wanted to understand what motivates gamers to spend so many hours gaming. I had never fully understood how people can be so involved, spending many hours every day usinggames online. It was about understanding their motivation, talking to gamers to really see their drive behind it. In one of my early studies, one player expressed it was to numb themselves and forget about their real life problems. That really fascinated me. I wanted to understand the psychology behind their motives. Though the gamers use it as an escape it can actually lead to future problems.
From there I began researching into different forms of internet use and ways that it can become excessive. I looked into differences in cultures in terms of internet and gaming use and how social networking has evolved over the years, and in more recent research I’ve been looking into mobile phone use. It’s quite interesting to see how some vulnerable people use mobile phones excessively, as technology is now used in so many ways. If you go out onto the street you will see many people engrossed in their phones that they don’t look up around them. I think that technology has changed society tremendously and the ways in which we relate to one another has changed, and it really interests me to see where this change is going to take us in the future.
Gaming addiction is a relatively new phenomenon, how does online gaming addiction differ from offline addictions?
DK: It’s a very good question, one that we as researchers have been asking ourselves. I think the major differences between them is when an individual is gaming excessively those gaming behaviours don’t directly impact on their neurological systems. What happens is that the impact is indirect, and it might be quite similar to substance-related addictions, however, it is not direct.
Research shows that people who are gaming excessively have activations in brain regions that are traditionally associated with substance-related addictions; there seems to be a crossover. Recent studies have shown that people who game excessively have similar problems as those who are experiencing substance-related addictions, such as alcohol or cannabis addiction. I think it is important to note that the American Psychiatric Association who publishes the diagnostic statistical manual now included behavioural addictions in the addiction classification, whereas previously when we talked about addiction we only referred to substance-related addictions.
I also recall the first time I submitted a paper on gaming addiction, a long time ago, to one of the behaviour addiction journals. I was told by the editor that gaming addiction was not a behavioural addiction because it was seen as a behaviour, it’s not a substance that people can be addicted to. This is paradoxical given it was a behavioural addiction journal. 10 years later, the research landscape has dramatically changed. We have a lot of research on gaming as well other behavioural addictions such as work addiction, sex addiction, shopping addiction, suggesting people have become aware of potential problems there.
Having knowledge of the links between addictive gaming, substance abuse and psychosocial behaviour, do you feel enough is being done to combat this problem by the Government?
DK:A lot of research has been conducted across Europe but when I compare the UK to Germany with regards to treatment, what I find is that things in the UK are moving very slowly when it comes to developing therapy approaches for those who are gaming excessively and also when it comes to research in those areas. I used to work in an outpatient clinic for gaming addiction in Germany, which was the first which specialised in that type of addiction in Europe, so I saw first-hand how things have progressed rapidly in Germany.
In the UK we are moving at a slower pace. We do however have a number of people working in this area such as psychotherapists. For example in London a colleague of mine is keen on making sure awareness is raised and those needing the help are being provided with it. So slowly but surely I think we are going in the right direction, but a lot of work needs to be done, particularly when diagnosing the problem and ensuring funding is available for relevant treatment.
A study recently carried out by yourself looked at excessive mobile phone use and its association with potentially harmful and/or disturbing behaviours, known as Problematic mobile phone use (PMPU). On the whole, it was argued that the evidence supporting PMPU as an addictive behaviour was scarce. Do you think as time and technology advance that this will become a known and established addiction with society?
DK:We should really refer to our everyday lives as this shows us our reliance on our mobile phones. I see it on a regular basis with my students, whilst lecturing Psychology classes I see that my students are constantly engaged with their phones and laptops. Regularly using mobile phones may not necessarily lead to addiction, but it can certainly lead to changes in the way we interact and communicate with each other. Also, it impacts the way in which young people’s minds develop, in particular with their social development. I think if we continue using technology to such an extent immense changes will occur especially in terms of human interaction. How we engage with our communities and environment will change. It’s going to be interesting to see the direction mobile phone use will take us.
As the internet and social media evolve so do the numerous channels to harm others such as trolling, phishing and social media, what are your thoughts on these numerous channels? And do you feel that it is another part of society?
DK:To a certain extent I would probably say yes. In the case of social media, what we now find is that people are engaging through the medium of technology rather than engaging face to face. This basically takes away some real life cues, such as facial expressions. This could be the likely cause of certain online behaviours, due to the ability to distance oneself online (more than what is possible offline). This distance formulates a technological boundary which means our communication is less personal. This is one of the reasons why we see more trolling and bullying online, people are able to act out and behave differently on the internet. This is very problematic and therefore I advocate going back to our real life community and real life relationships to counteract this current state.
Over the last 10 years technology has developed rapidly, what are your thoughts on the effects this may have on the relationships between generations?
DK:What you will find nowadays is that young parents have been raised with technology themselves, and now they are raising their children with it too. Essentially technology has become part of their lives. You will see children as young as 3 playing on their ipads and gadgets and really knowing how to use modern technology. This can potentially lead to rewiring of the brain. We have never had such developments in the past.
However, if we look at the older generations who were not raised with technology – there might be a technological divide between them and their children, in such a way that their children are technologically savvy, whereas the parents may struggle and learning to use technology is a slower and less natural process. But what we are also finding is that many middle-aged people are now starting to use social networking sites such as Facebook. So the age group of 50+ years have started exploring the use of social media more. The older generation is beginning to catch up with those earlier age groups who were exposed to technology from a young age.
Another interesting area of development are the so-called ‘silver surfers’ – individuals of an older age discovering the internet and technology for themselves. In certain aspects I believe this is has a beneficial effect on their lives, as they can connect (decrease isolation) and engage with their communities in a mediated way. It is very important to see both the advantages and disadvantages of technology use across generations. I am a strong advocator of technology use, however I’m aware that in certain cases of susceptible and vulnerable individuals excessive technology use may lead to problems.
Can you tell us more about your future area of research?
DK: I’m currently working on a number of research projects. One, in particular, is about mobile phone use and the notifications we receive on a daily basis on our phones, and how these notifications impact on our mood and possibly excessive use. This is a very interesting study we are currently conducting with the University of Kent and Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand. I am also working on a couple of cross-cultural projects on internet use across Europe, which we are currently collecting data on. I am also planning another project on cyberstalking and interpersonal violence, to understand the potential concerns when we look at the new governmental policies and development in regards to coercive control. I am also collaborating with Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust to assess the benefits of using online forums for individuals affected by cervical cancer and cervical abnormalities. As you can see, I would like to know more about how the Internet and mediated technologies can facilitate both positive as well as potentially detrimental behaviours.
Bearing all this in mind I think it is extremely important to recognise how important and beneficial technology can be, so not only focusing on the negative aspects but really understanding and acknowledging the positive uses of technology.
The Geeky Girl Reality is a study that will help us understand the reasons as to why there aren’t more girls in “geeky” fields (science, technology, engineering, and maths!)
The results of this survey will shed light on how entering a “geeky” field can be improved for all girls, the types of fun tech that girls are into, and why there aren’t equal numbers of girls and boys in STEM fields.
Tidbits from our most current research:
So, are you a “geeky” girl with a passion for science or tech and currently attending University? Did you love science as a child or did your interest bloom later in life?
Tell us about who or what encouraged you and you can be entered into our prize drawing for Amazon gift cards! Who doesn’t like free stuff, right?
With over 15 years of experience designing products as diverse as military, medical, and consumer-facing systems, Gene is a Principal User Experience Designer. He transforms insights derived from observations of human behavior into strategies that inform critical user experiences with remarkable value.
Having earned an MA in American Studies and a BA in Rhetoric, Gene has worked with many high profile clients including Hallmark, Sears, Borders, Wilton, and Sallie Mae.
Gene uses his cross-disciplinary knowledge, to best find solutions that achieve a balance between stakeholder and user needs. We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to ask Gene a few questions and gather an insight into his work and life:
How did you first get involved/interested in UX?
GM: In brief, many of my generation fell into this work accidentally, and we were helped by good timing. I was no different. In the early ’90s, an opportunity created by technology to do something called “interactive multimedia” emerged. At UCLA, where I was a graduate student in Asian American Studies, history professor Jan Reiff was teaching a course in history and multimedia. Somehow I got a hold of some graphics software, and armed with a copy of David Siegel’s Creating Killer Web Sites, I started making graphics and writing HTML. In those days, there was no name for what we did back then, no schools, no gurus — all of it fell under the rubric “webmaster” or “webmistress”. As the web became more capable beyond mere brochureware, it was shown that efficacy, usefulness, and utility had effects on success metrics. Showing and selling things online progressively became less interesting to me than helping people accomplish tasks, goals, and minimizing their pain points. And that’s how I got into this work.
What aspect of UX do you enjoy the most and why?
GM: I’m fortunate enough to be able to participate at every part of the lifecycle. At Honeywell User Experience, our design thinking cycle looks like this: Understand, where we interview and observe users, analyze their utterances for insights, then synthesize them to produce solutions; Design, where we try to give form to those solutions and map them back to user jobs, goals, and pain points; and then Evaluate, where we see how well our design assumptions, now given form, have met those user needs. This isn’t very different from anyone else’s cycle, say, ISO 13407 or 9241. So each phase, and each new group we work with, opens new opportunities to learn something about how people work, perceive, describe, and shape the world. This is my life work now. I never tire of it.
In the past, you have worked with many high profile clients including Hallmark, Sears, Borders, and Wilton, to name a few. What projects did you most enjoy working on? Can you tell us about your favorite project and what was so unique or enjoyable about it?
GM: When I think back, common to all great consulting gigs were nice people in creative and sharing environments, with professional respect and behavior, in great places to work that weren’t oppressive. The work is always the same work, it doesn’t change, so it’s important that everything else in context goes well. Yet I feel the most important work we did was at Siemens and User Centric (now GfK UX), where people’s lives were involved, and now here at Honeywell, where we’re building a user experience practice.
We see from your previous work that you also have substantial experience in designing both military and medical products. Tell us, what are some of the major challenges working in these areas and how much do they differ from one and other?
GM: The stakes are much higher. In e-commerce, generally, a catastrophic user experience doesn’t result in injury or death to the user or the lives that the user has in their care. And generally in these other domains operators are trying to do many things all at once — true of medical, transportation, finance, and military applications — a lot of integrative thinking going on, what Hutchins termed distributed cognition — so their resources are taxed fairly heavily, even with training. Thanks to Kahneman, Tversky, among others, we now know attention and memory are finite resources, so proper design should take care to conserve and extend them, but not to the point where you’ve created cognitively frictionless experiences, which has also led people into trouble.
Why do you think UX is so important for organizations to get right?
GM: Perhaps it is naive of me, but I believe at a certain level people consume products and services to become more of who they are or who they want to be. They are entering into a kind of relationship with your organization. When those products and services don’t help people accomplish those things, the entire reason why people have come to you, it damages that relationship. We’re surrounded by things and services that don’t work for people, that don’t help them achieve their goals, that create pain points for them. And broken promises over time will damage trust, authority, and ultimately the brand story that a company is aspiring to, or trying to tell about itself. User Experience may only be one part of that story but it’s an important part of how the story gets communicated.
A widely debated topic in UX is that all ‘good’ UX professionals should possess the ability to write and understand code. What are your thoughts on this topic?
GM: It’s alleged that when Gandhi was asked what he thought about western civilization, he is said to have answered, I think it would be a good idea. The code question sort of reminds me of that. Isn’t it interesting that people don’t say we should possess the ability to evaluate our models with users instead? Never mind that they focus only on software. This tells you that people in our industry still aren’t focused on users and their needs, only on software production. But our discipline is called user experience and not software engineering for a reason.
Now that our discipline is mature, as a basic skill, like a prerequisite for any generalist, some fundamental production ability is necessary, just as much as evaluation. If you look at the origins of interaction design, what is common to all the pioneers is that they weren’t afraid to make things or get their hands dirty, and then as they evaluated their work with more people, they became more interested in things like user behavior. A good background in production taught me the importance of knowing what are the basic capabilities and properties of the material you’re going to be working with, whether its software, hardware, services, or support. Specialists will continue make things professionally, but as a competent professional you should be able to make a basic model by yourself to assist in evaluation whether it’s physical or digital or a service. But I think it is more important to understand the users’ intent and how well your model achieves that, and not per se in punching code.
What are your predictions about the future of UX, say 20 years from now?
GM: There will be more CUXOs, chief user experience officers, responsible for the UX strategy of the organization, under which all experience efforts of the organization will align. Outside of consumer retail, the buyers may not the ones who install, maintain, troubleshoot your products and services: those are users of your system as well, and their needs must be accounted for in the complete design of any value offering. So there has to be an expansion of user experience efforts beyond individual touchpoints to understand the whole end-to-end journey. And of course it’s my hope that as we do so people will think of UX no longer as bound exclusively to websites or apps, but products and services of all kinds, such as we’ve been directed to do at Honeywell User Experience, and eventually even government policies.
You were a contributor to the book, ‘Eastern Standard Time: A Guide to Asian Influence on American Culture from Astro Boy to Zen Buddhism’. Tell us, what was your inspiration and thoughts behind publishing this book?
GM: Eastern Standard Time was a project launched by the staff of the now defunct A. Magazine, one of the foremost voices during the golden age of Asian American magazine publishing in the 90s. I only contributed, working under a fantastic editor, Terry Hong. I graduated from Illinois with a focus on nonfiction writing, and as a budding Asian Americanist, I was interested in locating how we were historically seen, heard, portrayed, and thought of in North American pop culture. The accessibility of the project really appealed to me. Perhaps that was the start of my career in user-centered design, in a sense.
I was eager to explore building sitemaps after being introduced to their benefits while learning about the web design process. However, I had an unconventional first experience: I was asked to create a sitemap after the content and navigation were decided. While after-the-fact planning is bad practice (particularly for a UX consultancy website), it was a learning experience in my skills development as a Junior UX Researcher. Most challenging was the structuring of each page within the sitemap in a way that would be understandable to the user. Because the sitemap was based on an active website, I had to do some UX reverse engineering.
On my first attempt, I made the mistake of including all headings and subsections in the pages of the website. In retrospect, its smart to include only the headings that user interacts with. This resulted in an unclear and fairly cluttered sitemap that did not wholly represent the navigational complexity of the website.
It was after this initial setback that I made a mental breakthrough. In order for the sitemap to accurately portray the website, each page link needed to be displayed in a way that was understandable and intuitive for the user.
At first, this task seemed simple as the website did not have a lot of content. Nevertheless, creating an accurate pattern for the sitemap that precisely mapped each website page proved an obstacle. After some experimentation, I discovered that the website pages were all linked in a way that formed a circular navigation pattern.
After this discovery, I displayed the pattern in an easy to use map. As seen in Figure 2, all of the pages in the navigation bar are linked both to the ‘Homepage’ and the international team pages. (The team pages are listed in a drop-down menu in the navigation bar). The ‘Teams’ page links to ‘Services’, which links back to ‘Contact Us. Finally, the ‘Insights’ page stands on its own with links to the various social media accounts below.
This task has shown me the utility of sitemaps for both designers and users. Sitemaps can be used to help a user navigate, or allow a designer to structure a meaningful navigation process. In essence, sitemaps are hierarchical models that break down content into specific areas as well as show the relationship between internet and external pages. I now understand how the process of building a sitemap is a fundamental skill for UX practitioners.
Graham Lee has over 12 years’ experience in content design, managing content for large web migration projects and writing copy for digital tools and transactions.
Having earned a BA in Philosophy and early success in his role as web content editor working for brands such as Pearson Group and the Ministry of Justice, he now provides his knowledge and expertise to Ad Hoc Global as a senior strategist.
Graham has been described by colleagues past and present as a highly skilled and diligent copy designer who cares deeply about the needs of the user.
We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to ask Graham a few questions and gather an insight into his work and life:
Why did you first become interested in UX/content design?
GL: I wrote blog posts and reviews in my spare time and stumbled into working on websites for a living. It was good to have an outsider’s point of view, as it meant I didn’t take a lot for granted. Official websites can look stuffy and use lots of long words that most people don’t use in real life. I remember thinking, ‘Who are they talking to here, and why are they using such odd terms?’
Was this always the career path you wanted to follow and did you expect to be working where you are now?
GL: Not at all! I always enjoyed writing but the web barely existed whenI left school. It would have been more realistic to dream of being an astronaut, as at least they were around back then.
Can you tell us a bit about your current role?
GL: I’m currently working for a public sector client, writing copy on using government services. It’s very rewarding, especially when you can take something that’s very complex and explain it in simple terms that everyone can understand.
How is user experience content design integrated into the workflow with your client?
GL: User experience and content design are factored in from the beginning. We do lots of research with users to understand what they need from a service. The content person then works closely with the designer and researcher to make sure the service is user-friendly.
In your opinion, what is the most important part of the content design process?
GL: Critical bit is making sure you write for the customer. There’s a lot of research involved in this: understanding who they are, what they need to do, how they’ll access a service and what problems they have going online. And then you have to tailor something bespoke for them. At the end of the day, the suit has to fit!
What specific research methods have you used and which is your most preferred method?
GL: I enjoy crunching the numbers on how people behave online, with things like web metrics or feedback data. But there’s nothing like meeting real users in person – for instance, sitting with them and seeing how they use a website. Even facial expressions can be revealing: preferably delighted ones when things test well. You really can’t get that from an email or emoticon. 🙂
What challenges do you encounter when carrying out research for content design?
GL: It’s hard to predict exactly what people will find confusing. You can make a very good guess, but there are always small things that they’ll trip up on which you hadn’t spotted beforehand. I don’t think this is a major problem, though. It just reinforces the need to make the content as clear as possible, and then test it.
What are your predictions about the future of UX and content design, say 20 years from now?
GL: UX and content design will be central. The web will be much more woven into everyday life, so the whole experience will have to be a lot more natural – like chatting to a friend, rather than typing a memo to your boss. This will mean that it’s more important than ever to use natural language and make sure what we design fits in with how people actually behave.
Finally, what do you do in your spare time? Do you have any hobbies or interests outside of your work?
GL: Apart from being a bookworm and film buff, I’m currently trying to learn how to play the piano. I’m not a natural: my wife says I sound like Les Dawson (who played all the right notes, just not necessarily in the right order). I won’t be giving up the day job!
We’ve just joined the thriving Westminster Hub community and we’re excited to be exploring the space and slowly getting to meet our neighbours. The Hub’s primary aim is to support organisations with positive social and environmental impact at the heart of their culture. As a result, we are doing a series of short interviews with people working in design and development.
We recently met with Tom Greenwood (https://www.linkedin.com/in/tomgreenwood) who is the Managing Director of Wholegrain Digital (http://www.wholegraindigital.com), a WordPress web design agency. Tom co-founded Wholegrain with his partner Vineeta Greenwood back in 2007, with the aim of “helping good people benefit from good design.” A fan of open source and WordPress, it is Tom’s job to set the vision for the company and ensure that everyone is healthy and happy.
Did you always want to be involved in this industry?
No, I always wanted to be involved in design in some way. But not specifically website design… but as time has gone on, it’s very clear that digital is the way forward. This is what I have been working on for 10 years. I actually studied Product Design at Aston University.
How did you get involved in developing and designing through WordPress?
So originally we set up a branding agency. I am very interested in sustainability and from what I had done in Product Design it was always to do with sustainability and energy efficiency. When it came to setting up a company, I twigged that most products you design are going to end up in a landfill in one way or another. There is some good stuff out there but it’s very hard to go about designing really good stuff. Whereas if you go down the digital route you can do things that can impact people’s lives in a positive way but it doesn’t physically exist. And that really interested me.
We originally wanted to set up a branding agency with the objective to help small businesses that were doing good things to present themselves well. About 8 years ago there were lots of green and eco businesses cropping up and a lot of them didn’t really have any branding experience so that was our focus. We gradually morphed into a WordPress agency because it’s clear that everyone wants a great website. WordPress is fantastic, it’s open source and we do so much with it. We really loved it and our clients really loved it so we gradually dropped everything else.
What are you currently working on?
We’re currently working on lots of things! We have just recently done a site for Collectively.org, which is an online sustainability magazine which was set up by multinational corporations basically who wanted to do something good. There’s about 30 big companies such as Unilever and Coca-Cola, all invested into it, companies who you wouldn’t always associate with doing things like this. Collectively is a really great magazine, really interesting, really engaging and they tackle difficult issues.
So due to the Paris climate summit this week we made a mini site for them, campaigning for young people to lobby universities and big companies to get them to convert into using 100% renewable energy.
What do you hope for the future?
In the future, we definitely want to move towards more wholesome clients. We have quite a mix of clients. It’s kind of the nature of the business. Although we are lucky and get a lot of enquiries, we can’t always be picky who we work with. You have to do enough work to keep yourself going. We do have a lot of really wholesome clients like Collectively and Ecover / Method who produce eco-friendly dishwashing products, which are used here at the Hub kitchen! And we’re also working with UNICEF. So we have some really good clients. We have an ethical policy where we don’t work with certain industries, which has been great in steering us in the right direction. But next year or the year after we plan on having a larger proportion of our clients in the category of companies who are positive instead of neutral, so actively green and trying to make a difference.
We also plan on doing more in the way of developing things ourselves that we can give back to the WordPress community and wider community, which we have done in the past but not as much as we would like to. It’s interesting with software that you can build things and give them away so that other people can benefit from them.
What was the project with UNICEF?
So actually, we have been helping them on their blog. UNICEF UK has two websites. They have the core website that tells you about UNICEF, containing the donations forms and then they have the blog. Most of their traffic goes to the blog where they publish articles with their news, the celebrity ambassadors they work with and it links in with their social media. We are working on their maintenance with WordPress but also the user experience side and how we can make the blog more engaging. Also, working on how we can increase conversion rate from the blog to the main site to make donation pages. That’s something we have only just started working on so you can’t see it yet but we are really excited about it.
When you’re not at the Hub working, what do you like to do in your spare time?
I like running, I do a lot of barefoot running. Everyone always asks if it’s painful but I live in the new forest so it’s really good, it’s quite sandy.
I also run a film club with some friends called The Ethical Film Club (www.ethicalfilmclub.com), where we screen documentaries about different issues in 4 main categories: animal rights, environment, community and human rights. We try to do eight screenings a year. We do this in the New Forest where it’s not like London, where there is lots to see and do all the time. It’s a beautiful place to live but there is not a lot of this sort of activity going on but it’s going really well. We have a good community of people and about 50-100 people come to each screening.
This weekend was our 7th screening and we showed The Future of Energy, which ties in quite nicely with the Paris climate summit going on. We had a scientist from Imperial College called Keith Barnham who came down and gave a talk afterwards. He is one of the top scientists in the country on solar energy and wrote a book called The Burning Answer so that was really cool.
We have also just been given a grant by the BFI. We have really basic projection equipment but no one has ever complained, everyone seems really happy with it! It’s just a cheap PowerPoint projector but it’s all you need! The BFI have a fund for community cinemas, which we applied for and got about £4000 worth of HD projection equipment. So next year we will hopefully show people better films!
We would like to thank Tom for letting us hijack his day for this interview! We loved learning about the origins of Wholegrain Digital, but I’m not sure we will be going barefoot running anytime soon!
We are looking forward to getting to know more of our colleagues at the Hub.
When we talk about developers contributing to UX design, many people are quick to point out that developers have a different mindset. Developers are often reduced to stereotypes of an overweight maths nerd who is busy hacking behind a computer screen with no social skills. While this may be true for some developers, there are many developers who also have an understanding of good design principles.
Code Has “Design”
Many people believe designers are people born with some special genes and only they can design and come up with design ideas. Contrary to that, design is actually a skill that anybody can learn. According to Cambridge Dictionary of American English“Design” is defined as the creation of a plan or convention for the construction of an object or a system (as in architectural blueprints, engineering drawings, business processes, circuit diagrams and sewing patterns).
If we look at this definition we can see that design is more about problem-solving rather than producing art. Whenever a developer is writing code they are actually planning/designing the system in which different elements of code (i.e objects in OOP programming) will be interacting with each other. They have to plan and imagine all possible problems and create solutions that are easily understood by machines. This means they already are designing, but they are expressing it in code. Hence, it would be safe to say the developers are designers of code. If they are given a chance they can easily learn to express their ideas visually, just like they learned to express them in code.
Good Code Needs Aesthetic Sense
In order to write good code, developers have to adopt aesthetics.A good developer doesn’t write code just for the sake of making something work. Their code also has to be to be easily understood by other developers. Just like when evaluating the quality of any other product, code which is aesthetically pleasing ( along with other attributes) is deemed better by other developers. Developers are also judged by how “beautiful” their code is. As Ruben Verborgh puts it “Programmers are functional artists.However, we’re not the kind of artists that create purely for beauty. We are functional artists. We have a functional task as well as the duty to write beautiful code because it is effective and thus lasts.”
Code Design Principles and UX Design Principles
Writing beautiful code like UX design requires simultaneously satisfying goals that often conflict e.g:
We need to have an understanding of a problem well enough and design a solution which is as simple as possible to explain to a machine and to other developers who are like users of our code. As Allen Kent &James G. William puts it “ beautiful program is like a beautiful theorem: it does the job elegantly and has a simple and perspicuous structure”
Code readability is one of the first things we learn as developers. It is also referred by some as the – The first law of programming: code is read more than written. Developers spend the majority of their time editing other people’s code. By making our code readable, other developers can find their way to places they need to improve just like good UX design helps users navigate through the system. Code readability also requires the code to be structured well and has many similarities to Information Architecture in UX Design.
Code readability principles
Locality: Keeping related stuff together
Consistency: Using familiar patterns
Verbosity: When in doubt, explain. Be as obvious as possible
Code design principles encourage developers to write readable code; written for humans and not just for machines. In other words, we are improving the user experience of our code (i.e. other developers) by following good design principles. This means good developers should easily be able to transfer this understanding to apply to UX design.
Python’s Design Philosophy
Python is a programming language which was designed to be a highly readable language. Guido van Rossum, the creator of Python, created it aiming towards simplicity and generality in the design of its syntax. Tim Peters adapted the guiding principles for Python’s design philosophy in what he calls the “Zen of Python.”
One can easily adapt these aphorisms and apply it to UX design.
Zen of UX Design Adapted from Zen of Python
Creating a beautiful product is better than an ugly one.
Every component of our product should be visible explicitly and separately
Design should be simple rather than complex
Choose flat over deep website hierarchies. Content is more discoverable when it’s not buried under multiple intervening layers.
Sparse is better than dense. White space is design’s best friend! Not every single space needs to be filled with color, shapes or words.
Design for readability. Content is king and your users should have a good reading experience
As much as possible don’t break usability principles
Only break usability principles in extreme case, one in which it is causing problems for the user
Write good error messages
Unless not required by design
Everything should be easily understood by the user. The user should not need to guess.
There should be one and preferably only one obvious way do something. Limit the number of choices given to a user
If the design is hard to explain it’s a bad idea and vice versa
Now is better than never although never is often better than right now!
This is not an exhaustive list, but it still covers the some essential concepts of UX Design. As evident from above developers are making design decisions on code level already and have the creativity and ability required to solve UX design problems.
Creating a digital product can be compared to a building a house where UI is like the outward appearance of a house. A user can recognize beauty in a UI, just like they can appreciate a beautiful house. But perhaps even more importantly, the real beauty in the design in both houses and programs are the things that are invisible to the uninitiated, but important nonetheless.Moreover, good user experience needs good performance which ultimately needs good code design. Also, there are many similarities between code designing and UX design and developer can easily transfer their understanding to UX design. Admittedly, a trained designer will probably be more effective at finding design solutions especially when it comes to problems related to visual design but UX is more than UI and good design is more about problem-solving than creating art – everyone including developers can contribute to it.