07
Mar 16

Designing beautiful things for financial markets

Hello, my name is Paul Pod and I’m a designer. You might know me from previous gigs such as GDS, Telefonica Digital, Artfinder and Tape It Off The Internet. Probably not though.

I’ve been working for a few weeks now as lead UX for an interesting client in London. Maybe you’d like to join me?

We are a multi-brand, multi-platform service for traders in financial markets. We make software for that spread betting and forex daytrading you might have heard about. You probably don’t know much else about it, other than people make and lose money doing it. That’s ok.

We’re looking for full-time UX designers, who are comfortable with some user research acitivites as well as building prototypes, in code ideally, if not we can get you up to speed. I helped train some designers at the DVLA last year do the same. It’ll be fine.

Starting asap, salary appropriate for experience. Get in touch if you are interested, or want to know more. paul.pod@gaincapital.com or @paulpod on twitter.


09
Mar 11

Week 22

Now, that was a week. We did it. We shipped. You don’t get to do that entire thing, from first chat to spinning up a dozen EC2 instances to cope with *blush* sudden popularity very often.

Artfinder is now live, go take a look. Go on, now – i’ll still be here in a few minutes.

There’s an official blog too at blog.artfinder.com where I will be periodically writing about design, feature and product issues. I’m going to write this one here first to try and collect my thoughts on our process and strategy.

Obviously we’re trapped in the classic startup dilemma of Time vs Resources vs Quality and I would like to talk about the choices we made and why.

Firstly there’s Time, and you may tell from the notes on this blog, and the gap between week 3 and week 19, that we didn’t move quite as fast as we originally hoped. But, at the end of last year we made a plan and we stuck to our dates* which was essential for us. First mover advantage is, in case, critical.

The second part of that equation is Resources, and it goes without saying we are streamlined to the extreme. On the design side it’s been just me so far, although we have an outstanding designer joining us soon. London has become extremely tight for exceptional design talent right now. Feels bubbly.

So with two parts of the equation fixed rigidly, we had to flex a little on Quality. We’ve made choices about features, implementations and shortcuts that have been difficult, but I completely stand by. It was only 4 weeks ago when we had a beta I could test in front of friends and family, with guidance on missing bits and known problems. Only did the iteration 2 weeks before launch did many of the elements fit together for the first time. Truly lean.

We’re very proud of what we’ve shipped, and the vast majority of positive comments has been very moving, but we’re extremely aware of many problems with it.

As designer and product manager I second this quote by Reid Hoffman, “If you review your first site version and don’t feel embarrassment, you spent too much time on it.” (Incidentally, Reid is an investor in Artfinder.)

How has this manifested itself?

“feature x is unpolished” – I agree, we’ve launched with the absolute minimum in place, the minimum of complex code (especially ajax and javascript visual effects) and the minimum user messaging. Are we going to add these missing layers? Of course, and as soon as possible.

“feature y is unclear” – From the feedback we sought during earlier, private, betas we agonised over some of the placement, naming and function of some features. Did we get it right? Certainly not, and we’ll continue to agonise over them until we do.

“feature z is missing” – The feature list of doom is massive, we picked out the ones we felt essential to convey what the Artfinder concept is about. The ones we did implement, we cut to the bone. For example collections – at launch *extremely* limited (you can see 8 artworks! No delete!) but have plans on how the next, next next, and later iterations expand on this.

“content x is missing or inaccurate” – We know, we’re working on it, the copyright issues we face are considerable but we think by being open, positive and doing the right thing we can include the work everyone wants to see while respecting living artists rights, as well as those deceased but still in copyright. More people seeing art they fall in love with = everyone wins, we think.

And that, is what it’s all about. My philosophy to UX, if I have one, would be best summed up as “Get the groove right, the beats will follow”

* Actually we shifted it by a day – we were one of the launch partners using the new Facebook comments system, and they rescheduled so we all went live on the 1st March together.


12
Feb 11

Week 20

Last note I did a minor reveal of the logo I’d designed for #newstartup, or rather Artfinder. Since then we have quietly come out of the shadows. Well not that quietly – this namecheck in a speech by the arts minister was slightly unexpected while this piece in the Observer was. We have a page where you can drop us an email and we’ll give you first dibs at our beta, which is extremely soon now. Artfinder.com

I thought I’d take this weeknote to post some more of the sketches and development as to how we got the logo we settled with. (With a little help from Bernie Pochon, great designer trading as Qualia Lab who worked on a bunch of sketches when I got stuck. ) I’m not going to annotate these, suffice to say I got a bit stuck on using frames, quite loved the modern Q ish square one for a while and spent way too long fiddling with an ‘rt’ ligature.


12
Apr 10

Week 482

So, that was a bit of a gap in weeknotes, my apologies. The weeks before the dev/fort were mostly quiet, like a coiling spring. The 10 days from Good Friday onwards were spent at a remote location in a big house near Inverness with a team of quite exceptional talents doing a mammoth sprint. A two day ideation generated something like 800 postit notes, whittled down to about 60 ‘groups’ and finally a couple dozen priorities. After a day or two exploration on things we knew we’d need (fundamental UI concepts like a timeline, a music player) and generating some data robust enough to hang it all off, we started building. And building.

At the end of the week, exhausted, we had a Thing. And the Thing was really good, exactly what we needed at this point (arguably a bit earlier…) that stands opposed to the glitzy video demos I’d previously completed by myself. They now look very thin indeed. This Thing on the other hand while not perfect by any means is deep, has layers and extracts attention from you in a good way – you gladly hand attention over. I played with it for 10 minutes at the end of the week, it was compelling – I want to spend more time with it and explore more, enjoy more of the artist we built it for. Rough edges aside, that is the response we want to illicit, so I think a success.

Now, sleep.


26
Mar 10

Week 479

This week I had a day off across the middle of the week, it was great and I had a haircut. Work either side of the midweek is more calm before the storm, our monster offsite prototyping sprint over Easter.

We want to have layers of data visualisations as additional content or even as interfaces to the mainstreams of content. I’d been putting together examples I liked, and received two glorious books to add to this. Information Is Beautiful by David McCandless Data Flow. Really nice.

A little userflow doc I sketched together straddled 3 pages, almost without thinking I added three dots, centred to the bottom of each, one filled the others in outline. UI style pagination signalling in print – seemed completely natural.I like it, will use it again. As we use screens for more and more of our reading, it seems entirely reasonable to translate the visual cues from the screen and apply them to ‘legacy formats’ like paper.


26
Feb 10

Week 475

Patchy week, far too much time consumed doing tiny, but multiple, changes to a couple of sites. There’s a convoluted approval process for some release-projects here, so progress can be slow and frustrating, even with modern workflows like Basecamp (about which i’ll write about in the future). Between bits of that, I’m making slow but steady progress exploring mobile UX angles of our embryonic ‘digital deluxe’ project, now codenamed Lava. Ongoing…

A site I sketched out a month or so ago is live, the revised EMI.com – this is based on the Basic Maths wordpress theme, with some tweaks and custom plugins. For such a big name, it’s quite a pared down site, basically a release blog, artist roster, press releases, that kind of thing.

Having tried to be a flashy ‘music destination’ before without success this makes more sense. Fans head directly to the artist or fansites via search engines. Music discovery happens is many other ways, but (almost) never off a label site, especially a ‘parent’ label covering an incredibly diverse set of sub-brands. It’ll be interesting to see how it goes.

One last note, the lovely guys at DUB need a great freelance design/ux person to continue some initial redesign work I’d done with them. If you have the relevant skills and sparkle head over and present your wares.


03
Feb 10

Week 472

As this week passes it’s apex I’ve just about run out of room for manoeuvre on this iteration of the design. I’ve got some good things going, which we will probably stick with and some things that haven’t worked too well. Luckily some of these elements (UI bits for content manipulation tools) are things I’ve been leaving very basic, so am keen to go deeper on those anyway – a promising idea presented itself while walking the dog no less.

Basic layouts and navigation ideas have begun to blossom into something with a solid basis (referencing the Eamse’s Powers of 10 and Zooming User Interfaces) – implementation needs improving, but there’s definitely something there. Plus I’ve hopefully set the tone of a product that has less hoops to jump through and more cake. (Achievements and rewards vs direction and requests).

All that said, the next run needs to progress quicker and feel much more immersive while remaining, you know, buildable at some point.


29
Jan 10

Week 471

Another jam packed week, but quite busy so this will be shorter than usual.

Presented first draft of the design I’ve been working on, wireframes quickly thrown into a deck and a 1 minute UI ‘visual sketch’ which hopefully got across some of the more experiential elements I was hoping to include.

Obviously it’s quite exciting to present new work, but this was tempered with the reality that this is a first draft and it felt it. Response was muted. Clearly there is more work to be done. Things need exploring more, some things need to be made simpler. Some need to go. We’ll be bashing out details this afternoon to take another run at it for a second draft.

During the lull of midweek I popped along to the Toy Fair up the road at Olympia. It was a bit depressing really. I’d previously first visited about 15 years ago, and a few times since, but this seemed to have had the life sucked out of it. No videogames, or interactive things really. Very much ‘old’ toys and very many of those with licensed brands. This year: Toy Story 3, Iron Man 2 the  big properties. All a bit lifeless. All a bit constrained by already professionally imagined worlds.

And then there was the launch of the iPad. Literally a blank canvas: lovely, exciting, endless new possibilities. Not least, possibilities for toys. Games, drawing, music, PLAY – all these things should shine on the iPad. I literally cannot wait and have downloaded the iphone SDK to fiddle, maybe even learn some basic app programming skills.


23
Jan 10

Week 470

Bit late this week, but it’s technically still this week, so there. I had a good chunk of the wireframes done by the start of the week, but they didn’t really sing or convey some of the qualities I had in mind for the product. To fix this I’ve dived into the other extreme and have spent a few days this week making a really glossy UX demo in After Effects.

Although some of the visual tricks I’m using on this aren’t quite possible in a web renderer just yet (getting very close though… 3D transformations in CSS here). For visualising how things might stretch on better than browser platforms though (smartphones, consoles and tablets) it’s ideal. Knocking back the fidelity of the transitions on less capable platforms will be fine – the quality here is in the layout, functionality and experience.

There’s a bit more to do over the weekend to extend this 1min video a little and revisit the wireframes with the adhoc changes and improvements I made while tweaking the UI as I animated. There’s something to be said for the speed and detail level animating makes you work (ie. slowly and closely) – you spot the clunkers easily and finesse the tiny marks. Anyway, onwards a busy week ahead.


16
Oct 09

Imagining Ruricomp

I’d been thinking, since I moved out to the country what relevance all that amazing and interesting work on Urban Computing and cities in general by far cleverer people than me (Matt Jones, Dan Hill, Adam Greenfield) had, here, in the middle of nowhere. Russell Davies picked away at it recently in his Ruricomp post and it’s been niggling me that the city kids are having all the fun.
(I’m not a book author or WiReD columnist like the others so forgive my writing, but hopefully I’ll make up for it with pictures).
The city street is bustling, overflowing with activity, both the physical as well as in data. It’s a lot less busy out here, and much less densely packed.

(or… The village is a nice pair of slippers for surviving the future)

I’d been thinking, since I moved out to the country what relevance all that amazing and interesting work on Urban Computing and cities in general by far cleverer people than me (Matt Jones, Dan Hill, Adam Greenfield) had, here, in the middle of nowhere. Russell Davies picked away at it recently in his Ruricomp post and it’s been niggling me that the city kids are having all the fun.

(I’m not a book author or WiReD columnist like the others so forgive my writing, but hopefully I’ll make up for it with some pictures).

DATA & APIs

The city street is bustling, overflowing with activity, both the physical as well as in data. It’s a lot less busy out here, and much less densely packed. I tried Layar out, and all it had was house prices, bah.

What data can we wring out of the rural environment that might prove of use to it’s residents and visitors? What embedded processes should have APIs opened up to the wider community?

Twitter as parish noticeboard

Twitter as parish noticeboard

So this is quite simple, mostly done or doable now but much more personalised and democratic than the traditional (and usually locked) noticeboard on the village green or by the church. We don’t get mains gas round here, but I have a 1600 litre tank in the garden full of LPG (or propane for americans). It has a tiny little dial on it telling me how much is in it – it also has telemetry sending this amount to the supplier so they know when to come and top it up. This data should be available: retweet me my gas! Chuck in local organisations (school, church) retailers (I choose, no spam thank you) and useful data from the outdoors (weather stations, postbox).

Duckpond climate data augmentation

duckpond-climate-overlay

It might be because my urban battlesuit protected me when I lived in the city, but the weather out here takes on a new importance. Rains a lot, and you get a lot wetter. But it’d be cool to have a bit more depth to that, and where better to construct the climate-data than on the duckpond. Show me the trends right here, show me the CO2 we collectively spit out – crickey that’s a lot, and the couple hundred trees here don’t really make a dent do they?

flood-map-overlay

Mash me up some data while I’m out walking too – here’s a floodmap/water overlay with some historical water levels of a stream near here. It’s not rained that much for the past month actually. There’s also an insurance-supplied party pooper there reminding me that the water’s not ideal even when it is there.

It’s all fields round here

wheat-to-bread

Yes, but fields of what exactly? Being a country newbie it’s good to learn about this stuff, and to put it into some sort of context. Wheat = bread clearly, but how much bread? Estimate me how much is an acre and show me with cute little infographics and Royksopp-style bakers how much bread that makes (2250 loaves per acre I calculated – could be miles out tho so I apologise in advance).

more soon…