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Designer interview tests: should designers write?

17 January 2018, in Design, Work method | Add a comment »

Knowing whether a candidate is right for a role isn’t straight forward. Jobs are different, teams work differently, and assessing someone’s ability to adapt to a different set of circumstances can feel like an impossible task.

I’m not particularly fond of design exercises. They can easily feel like spec work, especially when the recruiter’s expectations aren’t clearly set. Are you expected to work on an answer for 30 minutes, 2 hours, a week?

The subjectivity of the process in contrast with the typical engineering hiring process also bothers me. How do you tell a correct answer from an incorrect one?

With this in mind, other day I had this idea that, if good designers write, could a written exercise be part of a designer’s recruitment process? Because, truthfully, if you can’t write, can you design?

I must confess, I did no research whatsoever before writing this post, so the possibility that there are several companies doing this already is very real.

Nevertheless, the idea is worth exploring. A writing exercise could be the only exercise, or part of a series of steps (screening — take-home writing exercise — in-person whiteboard exercise — portfolio review — final chat?).

Would this cause issues to certain candidates? Could this be an exclusive process that puts some at a disadvantage? Would there be any accessibility issues?

I think this is an idea worth trying. I’d love to know if anyone has tried it before, and if it was successful.

Technically Wrong: the book I needed to start the year

8 January 2018, in Reviews | Add a comment »

Those who know me know I’m not a fan of surprises—I choose my Christmas and birthday presents. And this year was not an exception. But nevertheless, my husband, as the risk-seeker that he is, took the bold step of gifting me something I hadn’t previously approved, but that he sensed would be just my cup of tea.

He wasn’t wrong. Since I opened my book-shaped present on Christmas Eve I haven’t been able to put Sara Wachter-Boettcher’s “Technicaly Wrong” down.

Unputdownable, they say.

Somehow, I had missed this book’s publication, which is very odd as I follow people who I’m sure have tweeted about it. Nevertheless, I had never seen it before, or heard of it, so maybe other people don’t know of its existence either, which is a crime.

I don’t want to go into a lot of detail about the book, because I’d rather everyone read it. But I’d like to echo the sentiment of the author. The subtitle, “Sexist Apps, Biased Algorithms, and Other Threats of Toxic Tech”, is a good summary of what you will find inside.

Technology is an inescapable part of our lives. From the most trivial things, like buying lightbulbs, to the most live-changing ones, like applying for social housing, or getting a passport. But we don’t place tech companies and the people within them in a position where they have the same accountability as other, older institutions. We think if a computer came up with something (like a search result), it must be right. But it’s humans all the way down, and humans have biases and are fallible.

Technically Wrong includes incredible, heart-pumping, rage-inducing stories of racial discrimination, gender inequality, sexual harassment, and much more. There is also a call for everyone to open our eyes to the biases that permeate the technology that surrounds us, and that we brush aside, because they mostly don’t affect us in a harmful way. But technology is for, and is needed by, everyone. And everyone means people who don’t all live, look or sound the same.

Sometimes I forget in how many categories I fall that technology and the tech industry have a tendency to put at a disadvantage: I’m a woman. A working parent. An immigrant. There’s an acute accent in my often-too-long name, who no-one can pronounce. [I totally understand the plight of the woman in the book who needs to manage different versions of her name across different systems—that is my life (p.72).] Online forms that ask for my ethnicity confuse me (although I just sent my saliva to 23andme, so I might know how to answer that question soon). My passport says I was born in Russia (actually, in the “Soviet Union”, which is as amusing as it sounds), but I am not Russian (it was fun getting my son his British passport).

One time, I had to wait for 20 minutes at an airport check-in desk until someone with enough authority could allow my son and I to check-in. Why? Our names didn’t match our passports. Why? The airline’s online booking form said “the combination of both of our first names and surnames was too long”, so I had to cut them until they fit the form.

My anecdotes are largely benign. But for people who are less privileged, tech that doesn’t consider anything that departs from the norm can have truly devastating consequences. As tech workers, it’s within our power, and our responsibility, to change this:

“[A]lienating technology doesn’t matter less during this time of political upheaval. It matters all the more.”
—Sarah Wachter-Boettcher, in “Technically Wrong” (p.196)

My new year resolutions are very much the same as the next person’s: drink plenty of water, got to bed early, exercise more, read more books, write more articles.

But on top of that, and most of all, I hope I can bring just a little of what the author asks of us to my work. If I can do that, it will be a good year.

Now go read it.

What’s in a name?

4 January 2018, in Design, Writing | Add a comment »

As I consider a move away from having my blog separate from my namesake domain, something dawned on me: my blog is called Web Designer Notebook, but is that name still accurate? How many of us still call ourselves web designers?

Recently I advised a friend looking for a new job to not only search for the term “web designer” but also “product designer”, as that describes what many companies are looking for today. She did find more job ads.

So the question is twofold: is there a point in keeping a blog as a separate entity of the portfolio site (ignoring the unwelcome task of merging Kirby and WordPress); and is Web Designer Notebook a good name for it anyway?

Book review: “White Hat UX”

19 April 2017, in Reviews | Add a comment »

When Trine told me she’d been writing a book for the past year I knew it would be good. I’ve had the pleasure of speaking at a couple of the same events as her in the last few years and have since followed her work. Her talks gave me a great insight on designing for children — an important topic that we should know more about but that can sound daunting at first.

White Hat UX is a great reminder for experienced designers of the kind of work we should be striving to do, and an excellent introduction to the topic for UX novices, as it dedicates some time to explain some of the basic concepts.

Trine’s book, co-authored with Kim Andersen and Martin Michael Frederiksen, focuses on doing things right. It goes into detail about how we can improve our users’ experience of our sites and products, and our bottom line, without resorting to dubious design practices.

“Day-to-day business is about traffic measurements, conversion rates, cost per click, page views, uptime, media convergence and all the three-letter acronyms of IT business.

“What has become of style, tone, good language, identity, branding and positioning? They are still there, but are struggling to keep afloat among the flurry of new technologies all driven by metrics.”

—White Hat UX, page 53

My favourite aspect of the book is that it holds design professionals to the high standards that we should all want our work to meet, without excuses. Our work can influence the lives of people in ways that we can’t even image, and as professionals with this kind of influence it’s important for us to revisit our practices and consider what we do regularly throughout our careers.

The best part: the book is available for free on Amazon until the 22nd of April. Go get it — it would be rude not to.

I swore I wouldn’t write another book

6 March 2017, in Writing | Add a comment »

I wrote a book. Another one.

Even though I had sworn off ever doing it again, I somehow convinced myself that it wasn’t going to be too hard since this book was going to be much smaller, and I already had a lot of the content anyway.

Cue me being proven wrong.

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Five job interview tips you must follow

30 November 2015, in Miscellaneous | Comments Off on Five job interview tips you must follow

Almost five years after I wrote Stand out from the crowd, I find myself surprised at how some of the candidates my colleagues and I interview fail to follow basic interview practices, so I guess it’s time to share some tips with anyone trying to do well at their next interview.

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Podcasts I like

10 November 2015, in Inspiration, Life, Resources, Reviews | Add a comment »

A few months ago, while I was still on maternity leave, I asked on Twitter for podcast recommendations. My son was getting more and more mobile, and we were going out more, so watching everything there was on Netflix while he napped on me was no longer possible, and the only podcast I was following was about being a parent, so I needed some ideas.

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In Portland soon

10 October 2015, in Events | 2 comments »

Next month I’ll be speaking at View Source Conference. I’ve never visited Portland, or spoken at a Mozilla event for that matter, so when I was invited I jumped at the opportunity, and I can’t wait!

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386 days later: returning to work after maternity leave

7 October 2015, in Events, Life, Miscellaneous | Add a comment »

On August 19th this year I returned to work after being on maternity leave for over a year.

It didn’t feel weird. I think I was lucky: I knew my team was looking forward to my return; I knew I’d have plenty of things to catch up on but I also knew the ropes. Things change in one year, but a lot of things stay the same.

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Responsive Day Out 2

18 July 2014, in Events | Add a comment »

Last month I had the pleasure of speaking at Responsive Day Out 2, in Brighton.

My talk focused on the work that we’ve been doing at Canonical in the process of retrofitting our main site, ubuntu.com, to be responsive. We thought it would be cool to share our process, as we had a feeling that, like us, many designers and developers don’t have the luxury of being able to start responsive projects from scratch.

We’ve written in detail about the project on the design blog, and hope to keep writing as we improve the site and learn new things.

You can listen to my presentation on Huffduffer:

And do listen to all the other speakers from this and last year.