Hello Friday you weekend cuddling, third best day of the week. Another week draws to a close so let’s have a look back at some things I read on the Internet this week. Last week I mentioned how my Twitter favourites i.e. how I capture the vast majority of the things I read, show an interesting pattern around my main interests at the time. There is still a clear skew recently to all things ‘design’. I am in no way a designer but I am fascinated by the science and craft of it. There were some cracking articles on the subject this week that made my brain hurt. An interesting debate around No UI, UX behind the firewall (a subject close to my heart, as in it clogs my arteries) and a look at the importance of design on the impact of the stock price. The other things that caught my eye were APIs being dead, the constant pursuit of authenticity, innovation hypocrisy, views my own, Pixar storytelling and shrinking otter appendages.
We already have plenty of thinking that celebrates the invisibility and seamlessness of technology. We are overloaded with childish mythologies like ‘the cloud’; a soft, fuzzy metaphor for enormous infrastructural projects of undersea cables and power-hungry data farms. This mythology can be harmful and is often just plain wrong. Networks go down, hard disks fail, sensors fail to sense, processors overheat and batteries die.
IT departments are not like sales and marketing teams in that they have not purchased services that would fall into the “creative” category. Therefore they are often wary of UX providers, creating a cultural clash between IT and “design.” Some from the UX world may think that this is similar to any project where developers are involved. However, in this case, the developer is firmly in charge. There will be resistance to UX providers, and more than ever the concept of UX will need to be evangelized at all levels from the board director down.
What makes Google’s efforts so striking is that the firm has long had a reputation for caring far more about algorithms than aesthetics. In 2009 Douglas Bowman, its top designer, quit and complained that Google’s obsession with data was preventing it from listening to its designers. In a farewell missive, he wrote that it was hard to work in a culture that insisted on testing 41 different shades of blue to determine the right colour for web links displayed in search results.
Is an app that helps you manage your Netflix queue driving meaningful new subscriptions for Netflix? Probably not. Is another Twitter client helping Twitter sell and show you ads? Definitely not. When the most important transaction for Twitter was someone putting content into the network, it made sense to allow that content from anywhere. That’s no longer important to them. This is the future of Twitter APIs.
Innumerable industrial products now advertise themselves as “real”, following the lead of Coke’s slogan “the Real Thing”. In 2011, even Starbucks began selling salad-based lunchboxes labelled “Real Food”. A box of Rombouts’s disposable one-cup coffee filters describes its flavour as “Original Blend . . . Medium 3 AUTHENTIC”. Even Marks & Spencer’s men’s underwear is branded “authentic”, posing the nice question of what an inauthentic pair of boxer shorts or trunks would look like.
In fact, “innovation” is something of a magic word around here, shape-shifting to fit the speaker’s immediate needs. So long as semiconductors and coding are involved, people will staple it to anything from flying cars to the iFart app.
Cultures in which diverse opinions are encouraged are more open, innovative and honest than those in which they’re censored or distanced from official policy. This is true on both a national and a corporate level: censorship in North Korea hinders political change, while free speech in the Western world empowers people to oust governments; Google’s 20% time encourages employees to pursue visions not on the company’s main agenda, while a culture of subservience in the financial sector inhibits creativity. Encouraging opinions fosters innovation, while discouraging them is at best stifling and at worst dangerous.
In those halcyon days, the entire nation would sit down with bottles of stout and plates of dripping to watch a programme in which an enthusiastically cigarette-smoking Bertrand Russell, or someone of similar super-intelligence, sat motionless in a chair and discussed for hours the finer points of philosophy in incredible detail with an equally un-televisual man. Their noses and ears full of tufts of hair, their brains crackling with mental electricity, their flappy trousers hoiked biffin-tight, and their little odd socks showing, they reassured the hoi polloi that, although they were very clever, and we needed and valued them as a society, these people were loonies.
9. When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.
You can read the above links on your favourite device using this friendly service that makes them into a nice eBook. You can also subscribe to these posts via email.
Hello. It’s Friday time for me to look back though my Twitter favourites and pull out my favourites from my favourites. No real theme this week although I think my favourites on Twitter do offer a peek into my current interests and there seem to be a lot about design/ux/people sharing their working out which I find fascinating to read but not really Friday Reading type material. That being said two of the links this week are very much design related, one about how big organisations aren’t very good at it and another that looks at a horrific experience that effectively forces customers to steal your content (even though they have already bought it). The other articles can be summed up with these words TED, Track, Workplace, Secret, Innovation, Stock, Flow, Disney, Sucking. Enjoy.
“At first glance, the solution is strategy. Get more designers higher up the food chain and involved in the creation of strategies that would guide an organisation to make better decisions. Sounds right, but the reality is different. Most places I encounter these problems have all kinds of strategies talking about how important design and the end user is to them. They all handwave the right way, but the execution doesn’t match the strategy.”
“A good UX can be hard to quantify, but you sure know when you are having a bad one. And over Christmas I stumbled over a really good example of a bad one.”
“The crowd is diverse, but not exactly the kind of diversity you think of when you hear the word. There are celebrities, CEOs, politicians, engineers, designers, scientists, philosophers, artists, even royalty. And while there are attendees from around the world, TED feels very white, for lack of a better way to describe it. This observation is not simply my own: it was communicated to me, unsolicited, by a number of other TEDsters during the conference. White in that specific way you can feel white people striving for diversity.”
“Lewis Maltby, president of the National Workrights Institute, an employee advocacy group, says current sensing technologies don’t seem to violate employment laws. “It’s not illegal to track your own employees inside your own building,” he says, adding that the data could be helpful in improving firm and worker performance.”
“So what’s with all the hush-hush? Culture. Employees internalize their own stories–that their work is imbued with a value worthy of secrecy, vaulting Nike into the lofty heights of philosophical (and sometimes self-important) corporate cultures alongside only Apple and Disney. When I bump into Nike coach and three-time New York City Marathon winner Alberto Salazar, in between the campus’s Olympic-size swimming pools and sky-high climbing walls, even he tells me, “This place is like Disneyland.”
“His company maintained a database called the Holocron, named after a crystal cube powered by the Force. The real-world Holocron lists 17,000 characters in the Star Wars universe inhabiting several thousand planets over a span of more than 20,000 years. It was quite a bit for Disney to process. So Lucas also provided the company with a guide, Pablo Hidalgo. A founding member of the Star Wars Fan Boy Association, Hidalgo is now a “brand communication manager” at Lucasfilm. “The Holocron can be a little overwhelming,” says Hidalgo, who obsesses over canonical matters such as the correct spelling of Wookiee and the definitive list of individuals who met with Yoda while he was hiding in the swamps of Dagobah.”
and finally here is a link to a full book in ‘blog from’ by the brilliant Hugh MacLeod
“Generally, the real world doesn’t go out of its way to tell you to go create something useful and/or meaningful. Usually, it just tells you to keep your nose down and don’t rock the boat. The fact that this could quickly destroy your soul in the process is irrelevant to them.
So I’m afraid it’s you who must take the initiative; I am equally afraid that it’s you who has to take the heat if things go terribly wrong.”
When I said finally above I meant ‘finallyish’ because here is a blatant inclusion of a link to one of my own posts from this week. Shameless.
“‘Oh boohoo poor little mid management banker can’t afford to go to conferences, my heart bleeds’ Yes, yes I can imagine there is very little sympathy for me but all I want is an event that tries to bridge the worlds of new and old but also opens the door to others that may be interested.”
You can read the above links on your favourite device using this friendly service. You can also subscribe to these posts via email.
…and what I would like to do about it. This is a self-centered post based on my frustration at some banking conferences, it is mainly down the cost of entry but there are a few other issues. This is my attempt to articulate those frustrations and what I would want to see from a banking event effectively designed for me (by me?). Like I said, self centered. I might be making a rather large assumption that anyone other than me would be interested in attending such a thing but a man can dream (albeit a dull one about banking conferences)
That being said, surely it must be possible to put on a decent event about banking that does not cost the earth, is not all bankers in the audience and on stage, covers a broad range of topics about the existing systems, processes, people and the new things trying to improve or destroy them.
Expensive by design?
The event that brought this to a head was the recently announced Wired Money conference. It is due to be held this July in Canary Wharf at the financial technology incubator on Level 39 of 1 Canada Square. This relatively new hub of fintech startups is a good signal of the growth and momentum in London in this space. The event has a great line up of speakers (Kevin Slavin being a big draw) with the majority being based in the UK and a few being flown in from the US and Europe. My main problem is the cost. £995 for a one day conference. Now of course if anyone involved wants to offer me a freebie I am hypocritical enough to accept it gleefully.
Another great conference that the cost of irks me is Finovate. This year a ticket was £1100 for two days made up of 7 minute demos by fintech startup companies. These companies also have to pay to present. I am glad Finovate came to London a couple of years ago, their main conferences are in San Francisco and New York, and they have helped raised the profile of the UK and European Fintech scene. That being said it is still prohibitively expensive for me.
Next week we have another example – Customer Experience in Financial Services. A strong lineup of senior banking folk talking about exciting things like ‘deepening customer relationships through face-to-face interaction’ and ‘Engaging the millennial generation’ and while I am sure it will be a fine conference I doubt there will be any customers there to talk too face to face or any millennials who can afford to attend. So will it just be assumptions about what they like and want? Just £1000 for a ticket or £1600 if you want to attend day two as well, Social Media in Financial Services. I am sure it will be a good conference I am just venting now.
I know conferences have to make money or there is no point hosting them but it feels like these banking conferences are being priced at such a level the price tag means prestige or only senior executives can afford to attend. While I fully understand these influential folk are key to making the changes needed to banking or having the budget to invest in some of these startup companies it feels like there is an air of exclusivity which does nothing to change the attitude to banking for the better. Some of the new finance events feel more like ‘Let’s get all the cool kids of new finance to parade their wares and ideas in front of the kingmakers’.
There are of course good examples in banking. Last years Next Bank Europe event last year in Rome had a great lineup with speakers coming from all over the world and the ticket was 300 euros. It is bordering on the expensive but a damn sight more affordable than those already mentioned, even with a flight and hotel in Rome. BarCampBank London now in its sixth year was held the day before Finovate and the price was the princely sum of £10. Now there were sponsors and a few favours pulled but profit was not the driving factor. (UPDATE: Dave Birch, the organiser of BarCampBank London messaged me to say the ticket money was also donated to charity ‘We sent £685.34 to Jubilee Action for their work with street children in Kenya and with former child soldiers in Uganda‘). Last year’s TEDxLeeds had a new finance focus and for a shortish evening event managed to pull together a good selection of speakers for not much money.
The two one day conferences I have been able to afford to attend this year, The Design of Understanding and The Story have been excellent and the combined cost of tickets for both was just over £200. The people behind these conferences, Max Gadney and Matt Locke respectively, are very talented, smart and respected in their fields and they clearly have great taste in choosing interesting topics around their chosen themes of information design and narrative. They are choosing talks they want to hear talk over and above making money.
Pass the tissues
‘Oh boohoo poor little mid management banker can’t afford to go to conferences, my heart bleeds’ Yes, yes I can imagine there is very little sympathy for me but all I want is an event that tries to bridge the worlds of new and old but also opens the door to others that may be interested. At a price I can afford to go to as well. We have a wealth of digital talent in the UK and I feel like the majority are not engaged in any meaningful way with ‘banking and financial services’ over and above their day to day use, complaining about the deficiencies of their Internet banking offerings or doing great redesigns hoping the banks will notice. I want to get hackers, designers, writers, makers whatever in to a room to listen, learn, contribute and get excited about the future of finance.
As I said before we have some great things happening in London. Great companies like TransferWise and OpenGamma are leading the way. The London based Anthemis Group have their laser like eyes focused on investing in the best of the best with a view to redesigning and replacing the banking systems so they are fit for tomorrow not struggling to be fit for today. Sean Park of Anthemis has a great line about this momentum shift.
“We are starting to see a Cambrian explosion of new ventures, new companies, entrepreneurs focusing on this space. The fruit maybe high on the tree but it is enormous and juicy”
He is right, we are seeing a change and it is exciting to bank geeks like me. How do we get people outside the industry to learn more about this? Get more people eyeing up that fruit?
For me John Kay’s 2009 book titled ‘The Long and the Short of it: A Guide to Finance and Investment for Normally Intelligent People Who Aren’t in the Industry’ sums it up perfectly, although I would of course like to see people from the industry in the audience.
Aircraft engines & ‘opaqueness’
The other thing I would want from my dream event is not just about the new and the innovative. I want to know more about the existing system. There was a great quote recently from Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan when he was challenged by Paul Singer that their accounting was unfathomable.
“Businesses can be opaque. They are complex. You don’t know how aircraft engines work either.”
When I say great quote I mean it was a great insight into the attitude of some in banking. You might not know how aircraft engines work but they are built by multiple providers and that is repeatable. We can build new ones that improve on the old ones. That is not so easy when applied to the bank network.
There are many vast and complex systems that make up the banking world and they are systems we use every single day and impact our lives in ways we may never think about but it is fascinating. How is a cheque actually cleared? How on earth does an ATM work? How is a debit card made (I want a video like this please)? What the hell is a complex derivative? There are so many elements of the banking system that are understood by so few (including some people that work for banks i.e. me).
Contrast the comment by Mr Dimon with this one by Ben Milne of Dwolla.
“Payment networks should have a memory. You absolutely should be able to login to Visa.com and see every transaction you have ever engaged in with a Visa card. The fact that you can’t do this is ridiculous.”
For those with a modicum of banking / card issuing knowledge might laugh at the naivety of this statement i.e. the Visa cards are issued by a number of other companies and as such Visa should have no way of tieing all this data together. This only shows how brilliant web thinking is when applied to the historic models that make no sense to new generations, of course you should be able to search every transaction you have ever made. Just the ability to search a years worth of transactions would be a massive leap forward for most financial institutions.
So…after all that rambling what I would love to have is an annual event aimed at those that just have an interest in banking and finance and where it is today and where it is going. Hosted away from the steel and glass of the Wharf and somewhere a bit friendlier like Conway Hall, the venue for The Story and another excellent conference, This Is Playful. With a price that makes it accessible to more than those with tailored suits and handmade shoes but for anyone who already works in this area or just people who are interested in learning more. It should be neither focused on banker bashing or bankers only but a happy medium that can hopefully foster soemthing approaching coherent debate.
I would like to hear Joris Luyendijk’s stories about all the real bankers he interviewed and get past media stereotypes (or confirm them), or how about some people who try to circumvent the banking processes for their own gains (no, not bankers), James Bridle talking about the design and architecture of data centres alongside someone who actually designs them, Pelle Braendgaard on OpenTransact and can open source code really replace the banking network etc. etc.
My initial Twitter rant caught the eyes of a few people who were willing to offer advice and help so we will see what they say after reading this rambling word spew. My partner is about to give birth to our second child so I will have no time until May to think about this but in my humble opinion the best time to hold it would be the Thursday after Finovate as there are plenty of new finance types around which could give a head start for speakers and attendees. Finovate London has traditionally been in mid-February so it also gives a bit of time to get things organised if there is enough interest. Feel free to leave any thoughts below especially if you think this is a good idea and what you would want to see from such a conference if you do.
Thirteen proved an unlucky number as I failed to do a Friday Reading post which must have been devastating for the 7 people that read it. My excuse was that I was at the bloody excellent conference The Story and then at the pub with a lot of excellent people who had been to The Story and some that had not. I will try and write some words about it (the conference not the pub visit) next week. As way of penance for forgetting last weeks I shall do a bumper edition this week for your reading pleasure. Enjoy it and your weekend you lovely people.
“Although video phones have lived large in the public imagination, no company has made a hardware product stick in the way that audio devices have. There’s something weirdly broken about taking behaviours associated with a phone: synchronous talking, ringing or alerts when one person wants another’s attention, hanging up and picking up etc.”
“Whether it be Windows 8 or something from Google, a true Minority Report future won’t be enabled until we can replace the keyboard with true speech recognition. This isn’t impossible, technically – but it may be so, culturally.”
“At night, I plug in my device and load the videos onto my computer. I try to watch a few snippets before bed, which can be a disconcerting experience. I’m learning things about myself I didn’t want to know. “
“People think they’ve heard the Auto-Tune, they’ve heard the dance hits, but you really have a great voice, too,” said Guthrie, helpfully.
“No, I got, like, bummed out when I heard that,” said Sebert, sadly. “Because I really can sing. It’s one of the few things I can do.”
Warrior starts with a shredding electrical static noise, then comes her voice, sounding like what the Guardian called “a robo squawk devoid of all emotion.”
“Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s what’s happening here. These aren’t organic accidents or real fan-to-brand interaction. It’s just fakery–there’s too much of it for that not to be the case. And what’s worse, the brands that are engaging in the stunts could easily afford to pay for the ad space on those same pages. In other words, we’re not talking about small creative marketing here–we’re talking multibillion-dollar corporations using their enormous marketing teams to overwhelm busy volunteer moderators.”
“A second later, the eagle’s talons have latched on and the boy’s taken up off the ground; he’s dead weight. A guy in a black-and-white striped sweater rooting around in a bag nearby runs over as the boy takes flight. He’s in mid-air, and when the talons release, he’s flying for a split second before hitting the ground.”
“At launch, both apps had their distinct moments of strength and weakness. We thought foursquare was crap, and believed the design nerds flocking to Gowalla validated our attitude. Gowalla also worked anywhere — We were the first to crowd-source a local database from scratch. foursquare only worked in a dozen cities. In short, all else equal, we believed people would use our service because of its superior craft and availability.”
“Context is a slippery topic that evades attempts to define it too tightly. Some definitions cover just the immediate surroundings of an interaction. But in the interwoven space-time of the web, context is no longer just about the here and now. Instead, context refers to the physical, digital, and social structures that surround the point of use.”
“Research carried out by the Carnegie Institute of Technology shows that 85 percent of your financial success is due to skills in ‘human engineering,’ your personality and ability to communicate, negotiate, and lead. Shockingly, only 15 percent is due to technical knowledge.”
Twenty years ago (where the hell did those two decades go) Pulp Fiction was released. For a certain generation it was a defining film and for an ailing film industry it completely changed their world in so many ways. This great article covers how on earth it was made.
“Keitel invited Willis to a barbecue at his home, saying that Tarantino would be there. The superstar arrived, and, one insider insists, he wanted the leading role, Vincent Vega. But with Travolta already cast as Vega, there was only one possible part for Willis—Butch, the boxer—which Tarantino had promised to Matt Dillon, whom he’d had in mind originally for the role.”
You can read the above links on your favourite device using this friendly service. You can also subscribe to these posts via email.
My job title is Social Technologies Specialist. I made up this job title in an attempt to show my areas of interest and focus. The problem is that the majority of social technologies i.e. the ‘media’ bit, I am getting rather bored with for a number of reasons, mainly the attempts to shoe horn exisiting ways of working into new models of interaction and particiapation. Emperor’s new clothes etc. I still believe in the value of these technologies but I am disillusioned by them at the moment and I am more interested in the linking pieces of the next generation of infrastructure APIs, Identity and Open Data. That being said I still want the company I work for to be good on Twitter. My favourite link of the week is a fictional story about social media use in large organisations. It resonated strongly with me as did @LouLouK’s post about the difficulties of being human on the web and working for Government. They point to a real challenge organisations have in presenting this glowing, shiny and perfect corporate brand vs the fact they are just made up of humans. In the seemingly endless drive for ‘greater customer engagement’ and ‘increased transparency’ allowing your human side to show is really the only way to achieve those things, without letting your people be who they are then they are just lazy business platitudes or buzzphrases du jour. Happy Friday All!
“Once or twice he replied to joking references or complaints with counter-jokes, and was surprised to discover that these replies usually ended up featured on well-known blogs and humour sites. He decided that people were so starved for interaction from faceless corporations so prevalent in their lives that even a small reply was taken as a special event. An acknowledgment by an unknowable and opaque authority, of sorts.”
“Because on the flip side of this, there is a ‘thing’ around people getting to see that Civil Servants are normal people. Just normal people. We read MIT review, Forbes, Boing Boing and El Reg. We disagree with some things that happen in the world, we find science fascinating, we watch in awe as David Attenborough shows us yet more of the wonders of the world, and we get stuck in snow related transport failures. Just like everyone else. We are not faceless, we are not boring, we don’t wear bowler hats (well, most of us) and we have opinions.”
“What industries are the best candidates for the next phase of deployment? The likely candidates are the information-intensive mega-industries that have been only superficially affected by the internet thus far: education, healthcare, and finance. Note that deployment doesn’t just mean creating, say, a healthcare or education app. It means refactoring an industry into its “optimal structure” – what the industry would look like if rebuilt from scratch using the new technology.”
“By embracing change and working within the grain of this new paradigm, incumbent banks can do much to ensure their future success and survival and will find it much easier to rebuild trust – with customers, regulators and their communities – mitigating the short term pain and setting themselves on a path to sustainable profitability. The alternative is to keep doing the same thing and slowly but surely rust away. The best banking executives of tomorrow will need to be as familiar with APIs and SDKs as they are with APRs andRAROC.”
“You could see how, in each generation, an established company would start focusing on bigger, more powerful disks for the top end of the market and then just get wiped out when the lower end of the market found a way to make smaller, cheaper disks, even though those had lower profit margins. It made my thesis. Smart companies fail because they do everything right. They cater to high-profit-margin customers and ignore the low end of the market, where disruptive innovations emerge from.”
“Over time the companies that become dominant take more out of the ecosystem than they put back in. We saw this happen with Microsoft. It started out with a big vision: How do we get a PC on every desk and in every home? It was profoundly democratizing. But when Microsoft got on top, it slowly started choking off the pathways to success for everybody else. It stopped creating more value than it captured.”
“I said, ‘How do I design this home when the primary interface to my world is the thing in my pocket?’?” says Fadell. He baffled architects with demands that the home’s every feature, from the TV to the electricity supply, be ready for a world in which the Internet and mobile apps made many services more responsive.”
“One of my fears is being this big, slow, constipated, bureaucratic company that’s happy with its success,” he says. “Companies fall apart when their model is so successful that it stifles thinking that challenges it. It’s like what the Joker said–’This town needs an enema.’ When needed, you’ve got to apply that enema, so to speak.”
You can read the above links on your favourite device using this friendly format. You can also subscribe to these posts via email.