The importance of triage practice

Every designer at Automattic is writing a monthly design post, this month my post was about triage practice. For me the process is an integral part of being a designer. Triage for me is a constant part of my journey within Automattic and in the wider WordPress community. It continues to be really important to me as a designer, it keeps my feedback and testing muscles healthy.

Read the entire post here.

Back to Qwerty

A few months ago I began a journey to learn Colemak. Yesterday I switched back to Qwerty. There were a number of reasons I stepped off my adventure into Colemak, but perhaps its better to start at the why I began that journey.

The luxury of trying

In my job I have the luxury of being able to experiment with what works for me. I had toyed with the idea of trying a different keyboard layout as a lot of colleagues had. They were split between Colemak and Dvorak.

The tipping point

There were a few factors that made me make the change

  • New MacBook key sounds: the keys are super loud, similar to a mouse in boots tap dancing loud, when I get a good conversational pace going.
  • Wrist pain: over the years I haven't been great to my wrists with typing strain and they were reminding me of this factor.
  • Wanting to reduce my typing speed: a maybe unexpected motivation was to add more thought to my typing by reducing the speed.

It begins

I began my journey into Colemak possibly naively by going 100% in with doing it all the time. I did however use a cover. There was a problem with this though quite early on, the cover began warping and it kept leaving marks on my screen – not great.

I moved onto using stickers and this may have been where one of my downfalls began. The only stickers I could find meant you saw 2 letters – the ones on the keys and the stickers. This got even worse at night because the keys highlighted the Qwerty ones. I was rapidly finding things more and more of a struggle

The end coming

I found my spelling mistakes went through the roof. I have a lot of spelling issues as it is and my comprehension can at times be creative. However, it was compounded by trying to learn Colemak, to the point not a sentence would go by without issues. Just writing this in Qwerty already I am back to my usual pace of mistakes.

A different voice

One thing I did not expect to discover was a change in my writing voice. In the past my use of punctuation was somewhat lazy. It has on more than one occasion been suggested I should purchase a box of commas. As I was writing in Colemak this strange thing happened, I found commas.

Beyond my discovery of commas, the voice was slightly different. This was an unnerving effect. Not one I was sure I wanted. I did not feel it was a positive change either. In some respects I felt it lacked personality, it lacked emotion. Because I was having a lot of issues with typing the words, I became minimal to a point that wasn't always good. It also tested my patience, although that was a nice thing to test at times, at others it could have created a bad response from me.

Mental model comfort

I never have learnt to touch type, I have this kind of weird half memory, half some fingers typing method. Its clumsy and inelegant to view, but it sure gets the job done.

I find touch typing very hard and the lessons to do it close torture. They make me panic, which has this awesome side effect of my Dyslexia going into overdrive. As I switched to Colemak, I began typing lessons that seemed like old scary ghosts back to haunt me.

Lessons learnt

I did try for several months but it came to a point where the benefits were not out weighing the gains. I had less wrist pain, yet the mistakes and brain hurdles I was causing myself were not worth the change. Even the keyboard sound was loud once I took the cover off and the covers don't work yet well with the new MacBooks.

Reverting doesn't mean other issues have gone away. I suspect my wrist pain will surface soon enough. Yet, I will combat this in other ways such as specific exercises and actually being better at breaks. I may have changed my keyboard layout but I did not get better at taking breaks. A keyboard layout isn't a magic cure all.

What I have learnt is this:

  • Exercising my wrists and taking breaks is more important than switching a keyboard layout.
  • The ghosts of typing lessons need to be conquered. I plan on finally learning to properly touch type.
  • Experiments don't have to succeed and I am lucky to be able to do them where I work.
  • I have more respect for those with slower typing speeds, for whatever reason. I want to try and keep the pace more considered and hold onto that respect.
  • Commas are great, I should use them more.

Rediscovering sketching

This week I had the pleasure of attending UX Scotland. During the conference I got to attend an awesome sketchnotes workshop by Dr Makayla Lewis. It was great to rekindle sketching and I really enjoyed the ‘just do it’ nature of the session.

We were encouraged to spend the next day practicing our sketching and I did just that. I also created a little site to start documenting the process. I really want to work and get better at these notes.

I am using my iPad and Procreate so far, with a Bamboo stylus. I want to experiment a bit to see what works best, but I am happy with my results so far.

I actually found I took maybe more in from the sessions sketchnoting over just sitting there. This having to process to pull out content, really had a positive, interesting improvement in my listening to the talks. I plan to do this a little. I also really enjoyed it.

It was really fun to rediscover and get brave about just sketchnoting.

A reading list

It seems over the past few months I’ve got asked a lot about what books I’d recommend. Passing on good book recommendations is always something I enjoy and it’s a pleasure to be asked. It got me thinking of how I could put up a list across a range of topics and share that. I was further prompted by Ola Olusoga sharing this amazing list with me.

My recommended reading list is here, I plan on trying to keep it up to date also. I wanted to take away from any service as this list isn’t as much about everything I’ve read as about things I really recommend for everyone interested or working in those areas.

The reading list covers a wide but also complimentary list of subjects and the list may grow. Currently there are books on:

  • Psychology, humans and brains.
  • Design and experience.
  • Community.
  • Business and products.
  • Science.
  • Development.
  • Future thinking, digital theory and open source: a big section but these books compliment each other.
  • Life.
  • Yoga.

Creating a list like this is really interesting to do and I can recommend it, if nothing else it means you have an easy reachable resource the next time someone asks for recommendations.

The user is the casualty of our modern building process

It seems like not a day, even hour, goes past without some new amazing framework or outstanding technique that you just have to try. Posts stream past social media on this break through, that amazing new hotness and ‘oh my wow this just changes everything’! In all this excitement, all this wonder, haven’t we forgotten something? What about the users?

The actual process of building a site is now heavy burden wise. There’s so much to learn, so much to get your head around and deal with. Optimising this, making sure you know the latest x, y and z, keeping up with everything just makes your head spin. The seemingly endless noise of debates over this right way or that. Does any of it really matter though? Isn’t the voice we should be hearing the loudest that of the users? Yet, we can’t hear them because we’re too busy listening to an argument about what new editor is the best.

Don’t get me wrong in all this, I absolutely believe that a lot of new processes do actually bring user benefits. There are some truly amazing experience gains. My point is more about the ratio of sound, about what we’re paying attention to in our limited span. Usability matters for everyone, it’s not just something you should pay attention to if your job title contains the words ‘User Experience’. The problem is that the majority of the time no focus at all is given to even how the new shiny will benefit the users. It very well may, but in not saying it’s taking the focus away from something that should be at the heart of our conversations, our posts, our Twitter streams.

We are fickle with our focus, if it’s not being talked about it just isn’t part of our headspace. This has happened to users. We’ve filled the space full of cosmic code and incredible tools. Our soundtrack is podcasts about the next big thing, whilst putting down the current big thing and saying the next next big thing will be the one. Our conference tracks are full of demos to blow minds and impractical practicals.

Meanwhile, users cope. Users learn the ‘way’ of applications and are forced into accepting experiences. They shout their frustrations in one room while most of us are in the other room having our minds blown by a function. This has to change and I am optimistic the signs are showing that this year it will happen. I hope the ratio of noise on our self important modern building process dials down. As it does, we can start to truly create experiences that listen to users. That aren’t created just for our headspace, our friends, our colleagues and bubble. That are inclusive and actually enable those that use them.