Category: Articles

The female is more precious and resilient

I have a problem with USB C. It has been designed the wrong way round, inside out, back to front. The socket is easier to break than the cable. It seems a bit sturdier than the wretched Micro USB. I have snapped the pins inside Micro USB sockets on several devices and to repair means cracking the device open and soldering on a new socket. Make the cheap replaceable bit break more gracefully than the expensive to replace socket.


Apple lightning cables are the right way round. The cable will snap before the socket and cables are far easier to replace. Do Apple have a patent on it being this way round? Or are USB designers obsessed with getting things slightly wrong with an interface that does so many things right?

AI won’t absolve you

2016 will be the year of AI or so lots of articles, consultants, conference talks and tweets tell you almost robotically. I don’t disagree that the fields related to AI are starting to mature but we are a long way off from true general AI. Never the less this year will see a lot of people in a lot of organisations thinking they need to get some AI projects on the go. I worry for a lot of them. AI will not absolve you from design, effort, communication etc. etc.

There are a lot of fields underneath the banner of AI.

AI ecosystem

My worry is that artificial intelligence and machine learning as brands conjure up fanciful images of answers being produced as if by magic by these mega software and hardware beasts. Lots of things being conflated underneath the brand of AI. It helps fuel the hype it can also deform the reality.

AI will not be the answer to all of your problems. You can’t just AI away design problems. It might fix some issues and help you do some things you never could but it certainly won’t fix them all and it will certainly throw up some interesting new complex ones.

And talking of complex, complex software requires ever more complex skilled humans to understand and implement well. You cant just take all that lovely big data you have been hoarding for years and doing nothing of note with and fire it into these things and expect magic to pop out?

Without getting into the whole complex issue of bias built into the systems by the humans that design them, what does fake/machine learned empathy look like? Then again what is human empathy really?

There is definitely phenomenal potential in AI advances but it is still in its infancy and infants need a lot of adult supervision. They are capable of brilliance in between tantrum laden meltdown, soiled underwear, and refusal to eat what you try and feed them sometimes leading to spectacular vomiting.

“The business plans of the next 10,000 startups are easy to forecast: Take X and add AI. This is a big deal, and now it’s here.”?—?Kevin Kelly

Before buying into the hype get some of your best and brightest data science nerds and architects and designers to help you get a real insight into what will be involved, what outcomes you can realistically expect and ensure you treat it as an experiment rather than a sure thing. Like anything the more you put into it the more you will get out. AI will not absolve you of defining the problem you are trying to solve.

The people and companies that succeed in using AI well will no doubt be similar ones that designed mobile interfaces well, have simple and clear services elsewhere, get real data from their own data today. It just comes down to the old classic of spend more time than is reasonable defining the problem/making something simple. Spend less time than is reasonable hoping the robots will fix it for you is a recipe for disaster.

Curve launch – The embodiment of the Faster Plastic Horse?

Following on from my recent post about Faster Plastic Horse, and the importance of plastic cards for a long time yet, I was contacted by Anna Mostyn-Williams of Curve asking if I would like to find out more about their fantastic plastic product. I said yes as it sounded brilliant.

On Monday I had a chat with two of the three founders of Curve Anna and Tom Foster-Carter the COO of Curve. The CEO is Shachar Bialick.

In their own words this is what Curve is.

‘Curve simplifies payments by combining all of a person’s bank cards into one card which is accepted everywhere.

Curve is supported by a mobile app and contains chip and pin, magstripe and contactless technology.

Built on the MasterCard® Network, Curve works just like a standard bank card, unlocking a set of services to help everyone become savvier with their money, underpinned by simplicity, control, security and fraud protection.’

Combining all cards into one has been offered before by some of those Kickstarter backed wunder cards which require bluetooth connection to a phones and battery power of its own but this is the first time (to my limited knowledge) anyone has done it behind a normal piece of plastic and available in the UK.

You choose the card you want to use in app and it is then set to the default card for use by the Curve card. Once set you can just pay as normal. No need for your phone at all really if you just want to take the card.

They are offering some nice transaction categorisation features and allowing you to group more easily your actual card spending across multiple accounts. Manual process at the moment to begin though. There are realtime notifications aplenty too (which I suspect a lot of cards added to Curve might not have today).

There are a few killer features that the card has above the ones already mentioned. The ability to use Amex more widely i.e. everywhere Mastercard is accepted. You still collect all your usage benefits from any card added e.g. air miles, loyalty points etc.


The ability to add cards from other country based accounts and then take away the FX complication. They will do the conversion at wholesale rate and then charge a fee on top. This means people traveling or new to country can use existing accounts more easily. This FX play is also a big reason that Taavet Hinrikus of Transferwise invested early on. Partnership opportunities are clearly another great future benefit for Curve.

They will also have the ability in future to reverse decisions made e.g. if you accidentally charge a business expense to a personal card. Talk of a platform play in this area was very interesting indeed but that is one for the future and has real potential to insert new features into the existing purchase process and rails.

There is however a downside, they do not have an Android app yet (the COO is an Android user so he assured me it won’t be long) which meant I can’t become a beta user because I would use this service as I have multiple cards to help manage the family finances. There is also a one off charge of £35 which may put some people off but I suspect not too many.

Any other challenges I can see? Getting people onboard is obviously the big challenge and ensuring they get enough fee earning business/partnerships on top of the one off joining fee to make it viable in the long term.

I think it is a great looking product, the key will be execution and if it really can work across geographies and card schemes as seamlessly as they are proposing / demoing / beta testing with iPhone owners then they have a great opportunity to build something smart on all that existing plastic based infrastructure that we all know and love and understand how to use. I wish them luck and I hope they get that Android app sooner rather than later because I want to use this. Thanks to Anna and Tom for the demo.

They have published a nice video giving an overview of the features. It has a killer last line taking a dig at those other battery powered cards trying to do something similar.

You can sign up here

You can find out much more about the team and the product in their press area

The search for an Aden shaped role – an update

A brief update on my search for employment following on from my last post in January. I have been on pause for the last month as I concentrated on two roles that were progressing nicely. They have unfortunately both gone cold so it is back on with the search. One especially was going really well and I was very excited about it but some complications around making an offer means it now will not happen, gutted. I need to take my self off pause and look for more eggs for the basket. I have been mainly using my network of contacts but now I need to maybe take a more formal approach to run in parallel. I have spoken with a few nice recruiters following some recommendations.

I should maybe revisit some of those contact requests from strangers that clutter my messages inbox on Linked In. Why do people not add context to why they want to connect if you have never met them or spoken to them? Start a conversation, Linked in should make this easier / default behaviour. If you want to connect on there then please put something in the message as to the reason why as a blank connection request feels strange to me. I am always looking for new contacts / interesting people to meet I just want a bit of a starter in an introduction.

Whilst looking for the next big permanent role I also should get myself set up a sole trader or a Ltd. company (I had put that on pause too) so I can look at freelance opportunities. Feels like a lot of paperwork mind you.

In the last post I said I was looking somewhere at the intersection/overlap of Product Management, Digital Planning and Consultancy. That is still the case but I am open to anything of interest be it financial services or not.

I have been relatively busy not fully on pause. A few things of interest.

I was interviewed recently by Stessa Cohen for UX Crunch.

My FintechBot was also ‘interviewed’ by Irish Tech News.

A post of mine was recently picked up by Finextra which means more than ten people read it ;)They seemed to dislike my original headline of ‘Faster Plastic Horse‘ though.

I also get married on Saturday so I need to ‘get that out of the way’ 😉

The week after next I will be back to London for a few days (the honeymoon is in June). Wednesday the 24th to Thursday the 25th of February. So please do get in touch if you would like to meet. Also get in touch if you would like a chat and you are not in London.

Faster Plastic Horse

Whenever some new fancy change to the ubiquitous plastic payment card my default reaction is usually negative. I know what let’s add something to the well known and used plastic cards that make it seem innovative! How about a real time balance display? A Passcode generator? A fingerprint reader? Let’s get a Kickstarter going to combine all your cards in one handy must be charged and Bluetooth connected to your mobile phone and can only be used in a country that has not implemented EMV yet* card, yeah? Please stop. I should embrace these innovative attempts to improve the humble and ubiquitous plastic card. They feel like like the embodiment of faster horse, which I agree with another Davies is not necessarily a bad thing but still are they really worthwhile?

*Coin coming soon in EMV flavour!

In the flurry of PR when these things are announced certain details are often left out of breathless press releases and masturbatory tech site reviews. Why not say how much they cost to make and issue in comparison to normal plastic? Say how many you will issue in this first phase and how you will be different from all those other plastic enhancement projects that never got past the (I suspect very limited) pilot stage? Be more honest about the realistic aims of these things.

Experiments yes but solving real issues? Really? Is this stuff really going to have a measurable impact outside of limited prototypes and trials? Yes mobile payments is still in its infancy, yes people are used to plastic but surely there are things between the two that move people along the seemingly inevitable journey to software based payment devices? But…not everyone has an NFC equipped smart phone. If you are too poor for a smartphone capable of these payments innovations then the chances are you are also too poor to be chosen for expensive plastic proofs of concept? Normal plastic cards probably cost under a dollar, these prototypes 10-20 dollars? Is that sustainable for a wider roll out?


Stable infrastructure

But what if the little plastic card that could did continue to be ubiquitous and software did not eat it but just augment and cement that ubiquity? Are the plastic rectangles the optimal technology for payments? The plastic card links to the ecosystem very well via embedded infrastructure. How many 85.60 × 53.98 mm size slots are there in the world? Millions? Billions? Every Point Of Sale terminal, ATM, card payment enabled vending machine, parking meter etc. The move from physical to software brings some benefits but enough to phase out this infrastructure? Not any time in the next few decades.

The mobile can easily be tied to the interaction of the card and terminal today. Realtime notifications are becoming widespread for plastic interactions. The payment information can easily be tied to the mobile device. The back end systems to support payments and feed them to whatever realtime system needs them. The front end process and interaction has time to morph as infrastructure is upgraded. If it needs to at all that is. Plastic cards are already pretty good, durable, inexpensive, known & understood.

Whether or not the behaviour or value of paying with your actual mobile device will ever beat some other payment device i.e. card, sticker, embedded chip etc. I am not sure anymore. Can mobile interaction better the already pretty slick process of contactless plastic? Chip & Pin? Maybe America was forcing the hand of a move to mobile payments by choosing to go chip & signature instead. (You fine American folk seem to love paper almost as much as you love guns)


You can lead a horse to water…

Mobile payments adoption has been slow and fragmented so far. Even the deified Apple Pay is not getting the traction we had all hoped. Even rich people who can afford an iPhone 6 are too lazy to stop using plastic cards and paper money it seems. It may need a generational shift to make it truly mainstream, the children for which plastic swiping and inserting habits are not yet ingrained.

We are yet to see software based payments really come into their own. Tokenisation and in app payments and stores without physical checkouts are all at the experimental stage at the moment and there are a whole host of design and behaviour challenges to overcome before we move away from the act of inserting or tapping to pay altogether. For most plastic still is the main form of payment interaction.

The changes to plastic cards over the years that have made it to near ubiquity are those proposed by the EMV giants. Chip cards and contactless being the big ones. Very worthwhile changes at differing levels of adoption. All the other trials and examples have not really gotten close. Could that change? What if these trials involved more companies? What if some of those Kickstarter experiments actually were moderately successful? Results of trials were shared more widely? Opened up somehow? Share more and maybe the chance of growing and wider adoption increases.

If you really are as customer centric as you say you are then you are industry centric too and not just in it for yourselves. Hippy Utopian dreamer that I am I know this is probably unrealistic. When atoms are involved it gets harder, when payments networks and regulations are involved that difficulty level passes extreme add in ego, greed and competitiveness and we can see why payments evolution has taken so long.


The finishing line

What I would really like to see gain a lot of interest and PR is the results of these trials. Let us know how many people tried them, how far and wide they have been rolled out, Did they solve the problem you thought they would? Did new interesting problems arise? Will they replace all cards going forwards? Will there be a phase two? What have you actually learnt from the trial? Those answers are the rewards for the company running the trial I suppose (to the pioneer the spoils) but I think it would make for a much more worthwhile experiment and more laudable PR if more of the hypotheses and results were shared rather than just the shiny faster plastic horse. Show the thing yes, but show more of the thinking and working out too.