Google Chrome, lack of transparency and security with keychain passwords.

Did you know that when you login to Google Chrome, it pre-fills the OSX Keychain with all your saved passwords?

And when you sign out of Google Chrome, it helpfully removes those passwords? Wrong! No it doesn’t!

This is a major problem if you’re using someone else’s machine temporarily. A work machine perhaps? My job requires me to move around from office to office, and usually I use my own MacBook. Some occasions call for using a different machine.

Moving passwords into the keychain

I’ve recently been at an agency which asked me to borrow a MacBook for two weeks, and as expected Chrome pulled down my passwords for me. Handy, until I worked out they were actually being stored in the keychain for anyone with admin rights to see. Simply change my password and Voilà! You’re into every password I’ve saved in Chrome, plain text for all to see.

The only way to rectify this isn’t the expected “Sign out of Chrome”. Doing so will still leave all your password in the keychain. You’ll need to head into the keychain, locate all your password and delete them.

The problem is Chrome never notifies you of this, and it can cause issues with security and privacy. It’s another addition to the issue over plain text passwords being accessible with only a couple of clicks. I was shocked a year or so ago when someone at Technophobia showed me all my passwords when I handed them the machine to fix an issue. His words were “be careful in future”.

Thanks Chrome!

Your iPhone is watching you.

You may remember a couple of years back that iPhones were secretly tracking your every move. This data was susceptible to attacks through a hidden file that iTunes copied to your computer when you synchronised it. Apple quickly addressed the issue and removed the exploit. I actually like to have my location tracked. I turned it on with the Google app for iOS and I even uploaded that original iTunes file to an open data project. The only caveat is, I like to know it’s being tracked, and I like to know what it’s being used for.

The iOS7 secret

iOS7 is tracking your every move. It’s recording key locations you visit in your life and it’s using those to improve its mapping facility. It knows where you live and it knows where you often visit. Question is, did you know? I certainly didn’t.

Yeah but the little location icon pops up in the top right corner, correct?”

Certainly, apps like Google Maps, Google and anything which uses your GPS location trigger the icon in the top right.. But it’s a little more shady for Apple’s latest option hidden way down in the location settings of your phone. You’ll probably never notice the little icon ever appear.

Settings > Privacy > Location Services > System Services (bottom) > Frequent Locations

Yes it’s all likely innocent, yes it’s likely private data but, hiding it under a general “Enable location services” when you first setup your phone is a little sneaky. And hiding it under 5 difficult menus is just wrong.

For example, the Google app drops the icon in the bottom left corner, and is open about how and why they track your information. And you have to opt in to that specific feature.

Google's method

Delete those visual metaphors.

I’ve worked on two projects recently which have gone to town with images, which have little relevance or usefulness to the user. It’s an easy pitfall. Text can look boring, and often that’s true, it is boring, but as sites are becoming more content focussed and task led these images are disappearing from our content, and that’s a great thing.

Should websites scrap images altogether unless illustrating a piece of content? Certainly.

Images and adverts hinder the overall user experience.

Yes, it certainly depends what kind of site you’re designing. For the purpose of this article we’re talking task led and content focussed sites. Let’s start with the obvious one. They banned the use of visual metaphors in a huge way and the content has benefited greatly because of it.


Some would say the site has little character and that’s missing the point. Can you achieve your task easier and quicker? Is it less of a headache to use? Yes. Scanning content and flicking between the visual metaphors associated with that content can be exhaustive, and mean you miss the most important part of the content.

We should be simple and clear in all our communications. Visual metaphors which are overused tend to hinder communication rather than help it. – GDS Design Principles

It’s the classic customer services link with an attractive lady smiling while wearing a microphone. Or the one about how we love our customers, with two guys in suits shaking hands. That’s all yucky.

What you should focus on.

If you’ve gone straight into Photoshop, HTML, Sketch and whatnot you’ve made the first mistake. IA plays such a fundamental role in the design that it’s often underrated. Try letting your designer get out of Photoshop and into Balsamiq or Omnigraffle. Give them the task of designing the site with no colour, no images and no visual design.

We need to identify the key “priority” tasks users want to achieve. If we try and maintain a task led approach, we’ll save users time and effort, producing a happier experience.

Not this:

Screen Shot 2013-06-26 at 15.11.32

Moon on a stick

Moon on a stick

I recently published an article on the new publishing platform on how to think about your idea the other way round. Think small, start small and build upwards. It’s simple, but time and time again projects come through trying to reinvent the wheel and add 1000 features to it.

“Moon on a stick” seems to be the most popular and humans are forever wanting the next Facebook, the next, the next eBay. It’s an infinite loop of trying to eclipse the previous product. But startups and individuals have the upper hand when it comes to challenging the giants, you just don’t realise it yet.

Have a read over on

Apple got its sh*t together!

iOS7 new user interface

I’ve been a long advocate of Apple products but it’s the niggles that wind me up. That unified, perfect experience we strive to achieve in all manner of design. Apple have knocked it out of the park for several years now, but they started to lag.

In response to the people disappointed with the new iOS7, my car has never run correctly since I bought it. The idle was iffy and the throttle response slow. I had to pay Ford £35 to update the ECU and now it runs a dream.

I’m writing this as an initial reaction to #WWDC13 and the signs look promising. A good half of my colleagues and friends switched from iPhone to Android back when iOS6 was announced. It’s unassuming feature updates and lack of innovation just compounded the fact that it was falling behind Android’s updated interface and improvements with the experience. From being a dog to use, to catching Apple up. Both experiences weren’t perfect, and we’ve all heard the arguments for and against each operating system.

Devil in the details

The devil is in the details, and the experience has to unify between products and applications. I’ve been impressed by this years updated Air line and iOS7. 12 hours battery life is just mental from something so small and compact, and a complete overhaul of iOS seems like something a multi billion dollar company would never dream of. It’s both ambitious to attempt such a big user experience change, and bold to take on Microsoft and Android who innovated with radical design changes, even if Windows 8 ultimately failed on the overall grand scheme of things.

Control center

iOS7 Control Center

Apple have fixed most of the niggles that have bugged me for a while now. “Siri, switch on Bluetooth”, “I’m sorry Mark, I can’t do that” is such a downer when you’re trying to hook up your car handsfree.

The new control center was also a great addition to iOS7. Android has had the ability to control toggles for a long time, and I even had it on a jailbroken 3G years back.

Staying with iPhone

From the updated animated clock on the homescreen (I saw it moving!!) to the ability to share items using Airdrop (emailing images to yourself just becomes tedious). I’m looking forward to trying out the new direction. Looks like I’m sticking with the iPhone after all.

You get it right? It’s not just about colours, gradients and icons. It’s about how it is to live with. Unlike my car, this update is totally free. No catches, but like my car, it fixes a lot of niggles in one fell swoop.

Why I didn’t get on a bus

Bus ticket machinePublic transport can be great at times. Hopping on the train so you can have a few bevvies in town, or getting to London in 2 hours from Sheffield. I’ve used public transport quite a bit, and it’s served me quite well if I’m honest, except for today.

Today was a pretty poor example of user experience, and it’s costing the train/bus service money.

Take the “an your journey” machine to the right. I didn’t have my car today, so I decided to try a bus, after a long time not sitting on one. The journey planner was unusable. Each tap of the touch screen caused the whole page to refresh. Pretty certain it was IE too. 60 seconds it took me to type “Chapeltown“, where I live. That was a major fail.

The next hurdle was trying to workout the actual times of the buses. Safe to say it was unusable. I bailed and decided to go for a train.

Now, Trains have served me well in the past, and the Sheffield > London route is actually really reliable. Today however was another bad day for usability. I’ve seen friends get fined for not boarding the train with a ticket, so figured I ought to buy one before I started. I was greeted with the following:

Great news! So I decided to risk it and get one on the train and hope the ticket police weren’t at the other end.

Simple story about poor usability and getting the experience right, to basically not piss your customers off.

User-Centered Design

It’s a complicated beast full of process and research. There’s never one way to achieve user centered design but almost always, it involves speaking and designing around the users who are going to be interacting with the product. If there’s ever a design decision to be made, never try and guess the outcome as you’ll likely get it wrong.

Complex Design? It’s not that complex.

The most difficult part of understanding User Experience design comes in identifying the problem and proposing a solution. It’s understanding when you’re faced with a difficult decision that you need to ask the users first and not guess, you’ll likely get it wrong. Whether it’s through iterative user testing, card sorting, stakeholder interviews, paper prototyping (or prototyping in general) or persona development you first need to undertake this research to produce the most effective experience for someone using the product and you need to understand that to find this information out, there is likely a tool or process to find the information. It’s not just “doing a quick wireframe” or “a quick photoshop prototype” as it doesn’t work, and UX has proved that over time. Often, it’s the little things that make the biggest differences. Google are a company who have recently introduced a big redesign of their products and their principles for the company directly influence their user experience. Listen to Jon Wiley, a User Experience designer at Google explain why it’s important to understand how people use products and how you can change them for the better.

The Government is also taking note. The directgov site is a great example of poor design and poor IA. They’ve gone from a position of “lets throw all the information on the page possible” to a more structured idea of “design with data”. They’ve laid out their design principles online for the world to see, and they’re setting a great example of how to do it properly with the new GOV.UK site.

What should we be doing to introduce UX?

Technophobia Workshop Note: Image shamelessly knicked from Technophobia, from their sponsored drum page on “Becoming a collaborative UX designer“. That’s the Ginger Predator @martsky.

If a client has a problem, often UX should be the starting point. It should be the first thing we talk about and put forward. Why? Because we need to set into the minds of the client that the product isn’t about them, it’s about the people who use it, and this will guide the direction of the design. It’s what “user centered design” is all about and it’s what ultimately will make the client the most money, best return on KPI’s and best feedback from users. Problem solving is a difficult task to kick start. We can start with workshops such as persona development, task analysis or many other kick off meetings to help introduce UX into the company but the simple goal to get into the clients mind is that user centered approach. That to answer the questions they’re asking we need an educated response from the users. We can gather this data in many ways but some of the most important are:

  • Stakeholder interviews If we can get direct access to the users and/or stakeholders, we’ll get the best response. Through interviewing them one to one we’ll achieve the best results.
  • User Testing and/or Guerrilla User Testing The more formal version involves setting up a user scenario and some carefully structured tasks to get the best results from the user. The latter Guerrilla User Testing involves a laptop and a coffee shop. We can test pretty much anything on anyone,anywhere and make it up as we go along. Both methods will get results from real users who might have never seen the product before.
  • Sketching workshop A sketching workshop can help drive out requirements. If you’re struggling to understand what the client is trying to convey, get them all in a room with a UX designer and watch the creativity flow across the page. This I was taught from my old boss at Technophobia. (hat tip to Candy Diemer, UX Lead at Technophobia)

How should UX work?

It’s actually quite simple. User Experience design works when you notice it the least. If you manage to complete your tasks easily, with little difficulty, we know we’ve done our job correctly. If users are having difficulty getting to the right tools, have long or difficult user journeys and are generally complaining a lot, alarm bells should be ringing to notify us of that.


Microsoft’s horrible user journey

Disclaimer: I understand it’s being replaced with Skype, and praise the lord!

A lot of people wonder why I use Mac software/hardware so religiously, and it has nothing to do with following the herd and has everything to do with usability and design. While OSX might not be the pinnacle of usability (finder is horrendous), in my opinion I couldn’t manage with their Microsofts legacy method of design. It’s been something which has annoyed me for years.

I’m going to avoid explaining why I was downloading MSN messenger but the fact of the matter is I needed to for my Mac, don’t ask. Continue reading Microsoft’s horrible user journey

Android experimentation #TPInnovationDay

So, one of my last hurrahs at Technophobia was #TPInnovationDay. It’s what used to be known as a “fedex” day. A day where you set off with an idea in mind, and deliver it before the end of the day. The original spirit of the day came from Atlassian, an award winning company which is bursting with ideas and great values. It seems to produce great results by letting employees loose on an idea and challenge them to the max. The spirit of fedex day is to deliver something within 24 hours. Atlassian now calls these Ship It days. Continue reading Android experimentation #TPInnovationDay

Designers characterised by clever, unusual strategies. Guerrilla User Testing.

guerrilla: a member of an irregular armed force that fights a stronger force by sabotage and harassment. The word ‘Guerrilla’ quite often conjures up notions of left field irregular strategies and popular terms such as Guerrilla Warfare is something which rests in many peoples minds, even if they know nothing of the subject and its history. ‘Guerrilla’ comes from the Spanish language and literally means ‘war‘ (guerra) and is said to have been used to describe “The Guerrillas of Spain” in the Peninsular War (1808-1814).

Lets apply that term to user testing…
Continue reading Designers characterised by clever, unusual strategies. Guerrilla User Testing.