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How to be productive

 

How To Be Productive

I discovered this infographic today on Abbey’s blog (she is awesome, go read her stuff), and was interested by it.

I have to be honest, I look at infographics all day every day, and this one is actually not brilliantly designed. I kind of get where they were going with the idea, but I’m not sure it 100% works. HOWEVER. I thought the things on it, were quite interesting.

‘Discard what you stop using’. I have to admit it, I am a bit of a hoarder. I have half used notebooks from 2008, jewellery I wore at one party that turned my neck green and books that I have never read. This is not a good thing, and something that I am desperately trying to correct. My dad is obsessed with ‘rationalisation’ and is constantly throwing things away, I need to be the same. Henceforth, if I do not know it to be useful, or believe it to be beautiful it is going to go. (NB, this does not apply to my hoarded collection of past issues of Elle decoration. They stay, sorry Dad.)

‘Routinize your diet’: (First of all, are we really spelling ‘routinize’ like that. Really? Let’s not.) This is interesting. I am a huge believer in routine, and I also know that when I miss meals, I get super grouchy, so the idea of building in a definite time to eat, rather than just grabbing a sandwich on the run seems appealing. Especially if it will then aid productivity… But its hat what it is saying? Or does it mean, like, eat the same food every day? Because I think that would be boring, although maybe I’d be more productive if I wasn’t spending so much time looking at How Sweet Eats looking for recipes.

‘Sleep more. You will get more done.’: YES. Sleep is so good. And good for you. When I was in my first year of uni, I got into terrible habits of staying up super late, then sleeping in and missing the morning entirely. So then I stayed up all night, all day, then went to bed at 10 and woke up at 6am the following morning. It was hell for a couple of days, but then I slipped into a routine and have pretty much stayed in it ever since. It has definitely helped my productivity levels, as I have discovered that I work best very early in the morning, so if I get my work done in the am, it leaves time for fun things in the pm!

‘Do a bad first draft’: This is so true, Your first attempt is never going to be perfect, but hey at least you’ve got some words on paper! Now go congratulate yourself with an extended tea and toast break! Kidding. Don’t do that. Stay at your desk and keep working slacker! Actually getting something, anything written is the best way to get inspired, and to keep on writing. Even if none of those words end up in the final product, a start is better than nothing.

So lots of sensible ideas …

But also some bad ones …

‘Carry an all occasion outfit with you’: Because obviously I want to carry some giant holdall with me at all times. What am I Mary Poppins? Also all occasion outfits do not exist. This is a stupid idea. Don’t do that.

‘Do not answer the phone unless it is a true emergency (emergencies are rare)’: Huh. Because all productive people are hermits who never talk to anyone and live in a cave right? Nope. I had the most inspiring phone call of my life last week- it was vital to my work, and awesome for my soul (if that doesn’t sound like too much of a wanky thing to say). Had I not picked up, I would had missed out on a great opportunity, and a laughter filled half hour. Obviously, some calls are tedious and bad for productivity (I’m looking at you, Virgin Media helpline), but not all. This is a stupid idea.

‘If you have  a mind block, make a mind map’: I’m on the fence with this one. Are mind maps helpful? I find them helpful for a)showing off my extensive collection of coloured pens and b)procrastination. But maybe I’m just doing them all wrong. Have you ever used a mind map? Did it work?

I’m always super interested to find out what productivity tips other people have, and life hacks to make the most out of a working day. Tell me your secrets!

Music to work to

I am spending an awful lot of time sitting at my desk writing at the moment. Frankly a silly amount, but deadlines are a looming, and much as I enjoy watching them as they go whooshing past in general, this one really is rather solid and doesn’t really stand up to any nonsense, so sit and write I must.

But not only is this bad for my behind (writers bottom is a thing). But it is also bad for my ears. I love listening to music, and generally have some form playing at most times. I grew up in a house where jazz FM practically seeped out of the walls. But I’m processing some pretty heavy data at the moment, as well as trying to turn the results into readable prose, and need to avoid any distractions.

So what can I listen to while slaving away over a hot mac? Anything with lyrics in is a no go. I wish I was a good multi tasker, but alas I am not. So therefore listening to and understanding people singing words, while also writing words that should be understood is not easy for me. I’m also not the biggest fan of classical music…I know, I know, philistine, clearly. In the right place and the right time, I don’t mind a spot of Brahms, but if I listen to it while working, I just feel TOO worthy and also a bit bored.

So what I come down to, every single time is this:

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MAN, this album is so good. Crazy good. And I have listened to it about 50 million times. Every single track is an absolute masterclass in how to compose and perform really really bloody good jazz. I love Miles generally, and Milestones comes in at a close second favourite, but this album is heaven itself.

Perfect to work to, perfect to chill out to, I just can’t seem to get enough of it. I’m on the search for other really good instrumental jazz though, so please send any suggestions my way! That is, if I ever take this album off repeat…

Currently obsessing over…

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(Photo via Hommemaker)

Succulents. Like, completely obsessed. I’m finding ways of bringing all conversations round to them. It’s like,

Poor unsuspecting friend: “oh hey, how are you?’

Me: “Oh good, you know what else is good? PLANTING SUCCULENTS.”

PUF: …*backs away slowly*

Seriously though. I love them. They’re so smooth and calm and chic and somehow cooler than you are. I feel a little bit like they might be the Gwyneth Paltrow of the plant world, pre the whole ‘conscious uncoupling’ thing.

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(Photo via Pinterest)

I recently went on a succulent buying mission to B&Q, but it turns out that succulents are actually way too cool for B&Q and weren’t there. Despite going to B&Q specifically to buy some of these bad boys, I wasn’t too bummed out as I got to spend a ton of time looking for trolleys, queuing, and hanging out with all the cool guys, just chilling in the car park. IT WAS HELL.

I had to calm down by coming home and looking at pictures like this

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(Photo via Pinterest)

See? So calming.

However, the gods of the succulents were looking down on me, as I was walking past this little pop up florist later in the day on a shopping run, and lo and behold – there were some adorable mini succulents, looking like they were waiting for me, like long lost plant loves. I slightly freaked out the florist by being so excited, and she gave 6 of them to me for the bargain price of £1.89 each. Is it a bargain? I have literally no idea. Plant pricing is a new and alien concept to me, but here I did feel a little bit like I was buying happiness. Especially after the horrors of B&Q. To be completely honest, I would probably still have bought them even if they had been a fiver. Because did I mention that I love them?

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At the moment they’re just chilling out in their new glass home in the little plastic pots they came in. Soon, they will be given new soil and grit, so they can be a bit more comfortable and a little bit less pot-y, but that requires specialist knowledge about draining, which requires asking my Mama, as she knows everything.

Right now they’re hanging out on my dressing table and generally making me feel fulfilled and happy and that little bit chic-er. Such is the power of the plants. LOVE THEM.

Soon, my life will look like this, and I will be happy forever more:

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(photo via blushinginthedark)

 

 

 

An open letter to LinkedIn

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Dear LinkedIn

 

 

I get it. I really do. You’re trying to be helpful. I mean it really is a huge effort for me to type in contacts who I’d like to add, to keystroke by heavy keystroke search for the people that I’d like to be in my network. It’s super helpful of you to go through my emails to find people that I’ve been in contact with, and suggest that I ‘connect’ with them. Except that, the thing is, I’d really rather you didn’t. Because, in all honesty and in the spirit of helpfulness I thought I’d let you know that it’s a little bit creepy.

 

It turns out that I am not alone in feeling this. A cursory google search of the phrase ‘LinkedIn creepy’ brings up 42,000 results. Mainly of people who like myself, are feeling rather perturbed by your flagrant disregard to user privacy. In fact, if you do this search yourself, you may come across several posts with titles such as ‘LinkedIn- the creepiest social network’ and ‘The 11 creepiest things about LinkedIn’. So it would seem that I am not actually just one little weirdo with a laptop, tin hat and an unhealthy obsession with keeping my emails private, but one of many. And when there are many, there becomes a movement. Or a class action suit. Maybe. 

 

The concept of LinkedIn is a brilliant one, and one that has got many people jobs. This is Good Thing. I’m not sure that many people would deny that. However, like my tin hatted friends, I am very nervous to use it, as I just don’t trust it. When I signed up, I quite specifically denied permission to access my emails and other social media accounts. Yet, every time I log on, there lurking suspiciously at the side of my screen are people who you think I should ‘connect’ to. These include: the grandparent of a child I used to babysit (10 YEARS AGO), my coach’s wife, my cousin, someone I bought a dining table from on gumtree and my waxer. Of all of these, I had only emailed one. The rest of them, I either knew through day to day life, twitter and through a local forum. Additionally, not a single one of them have anything to do with my professional life, so would be fairly rubbish connections career wise. 

 

When a company’s users lose faith, they start to leave and go to their competitors. It’s starting to happen with facebook, and it will happen to you unless you start being a bit more open about what on earth is happening to our data over there in LinkedIn towers. At the moment, you’re in a pretty unique position of not having that many competitors who are making that many waves, but pretty soon, when one comes along with its white hat and transparent privacy policy your users will jump ship. 

 

It’s not just the unwanted access to personal and private emails and social media accounts that is worrying. There’s the potential for stalking. Not just the supposedly harmless, browsing the profile of someone you dated once kind of stalking. The full on, obsessive, terrifying and life threatening kind. Because the only way you can block someone on your site is through a court order. Or at least that’s what you said when one user came to you when her former boss was contacting her 100 times a day. Every day. And when that same person wanted to speak with you, you cancelled a phone meeting with her 11 times. For a company that exists to connect professionals, it doesn’t seem like very professional behaviour. 

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(Image via buzzfeed)

 

Of course there was also the time when six million passwords to your site got leaked. Bit creepy. And then there’s the fact that you automatically share user’s data to third parties, without asking for permission. Creepier still. And also, that many young women find themselves targeted by older guys, sending sexual messages (many of whose ‘also viewed’ page shows a whole list of young attractive women, who may have also come into their firing line) MEGA CREEPY. None of this makes me want to be a part of this business, and I’m pretty sure that a lot of other people are feeling the same way.

 

So what can you do? Well, for starters and for safety, please enable a block feature. If a user is being harassed by unwanted messages, please don’t force them to go to court for a restraining order, let them block the sender. Second, please be more open about exactly how you suggest ‘people you may know’. The stock response from the ‘trust and safety team’ is that it’s just through shared contacts and commonalities, but that cannot possibly be true. So please tell us how you are doing it, and how we, as users can stop it. And please, stop asking me to connect with my former waxer, because actually i’ve found a new one. But then again, you probably already knew that.

 

All the best,

 

Ro

Designing design policy.

design museum

Earlier this week, I was lucky enough to attend the rather swanky Design, Innovation & Technology Spring Reception, at the Design Museum, hosted by the Design Special Interest group. The aim of the evening was to discuss, through short talks and networking, the role that design and innovation has and can play in growing businesses, supporting organisations and generally making the world a better place. We were also told that we would given the opportunity to ‘contribute directly to public policy’ which sounded far more exciting than my usual wednesday evening.

So, to backtrack a little. The design special interest group exists to ‘support UK business innovation by building a community of designers and technology innovators’ They are just one of 14 different special interest groups that exist within the Technology Strategy Board, which in turn falls under the umbrella of the Knowledge Transfer Network‘s creative industries community. Simple huh? But this event was also co-hosted by Policy Connect – ‘the leading network of Parliamentary groups, research commissions, forums and campaigns working to inform and improve UK public policy.’ They support the Design Commission which is the research arm of the All Parliamentary Design and Innovation Group. Still with me? I swear if ever any event was in need of an infographic, this was it.

Essentially, these organisations exist to nudge businesses and government towards the creative industries, and extoll the innovative virtues of design and technology to all and sundry. They’re also there to create links and connections between organisations and individuals, to ‘bring the design and technology communities closer together’. The ideals behind these organisations are worthy indeed, and I think there’s a real need for more and better design in government. But there’s one big problem. These are all government organisations. And the problem with government organisations is that they’re so wrapped up in red tape you can barely see past the bureaucracy.

But back to the event. After initial schmoozing, Beatrice Rogers, the director of the Design Special Interest Group (hereafter DSIG for short, because typing is hard) invited us to take our seats and introduced the evening. Each speaker would have no more than 5 minutes to tell us about how design changed their life. Or, y’know, how design, innovation and technology partnerships support UK businesses and aids competitiveness. They would just present with slides, no time for questions. Kind of like the Pecha Kucha concept, which prevents waffling, if slightly panics presenters.

First up was the Dani Salvadori from Central Saint Martins who was championing the art school as a hub of innovation- not just creativity. She used her time to tell us about projects with CSM students and outside organisations that have been successful. Did you know that the M shaped bicycle stand was designed in partnership with the University of the Arts London’s ‘Design Against Crime’ group? (Incidentally, don’t you just love the title of that group? I’m just imagining uber hip designers stalking around Shoreditch- magnifying glass in hand…) Her point was that all too often, people view art schools as these great creative ponds, but not brilliant at organisation or business acumen. This is clearly not the case, and so many art and design schools are leading the way in terms of forming lasting partnerships with brands and organisations that can see the value in hiring young and innovative designers.

Next was Jim Maltby, a ‘strategic analyst’ from the Defence Science & Technology Laboratory (Dstl). He was there to tell us all about how working with the DSIG had helped Dstl, not only with one particular project, but also impacted on other areas. I’m so sorry Jim, you are super awesome and so is the project you’re working on, but this talk was super dull. The project, was all about predicting forecasting the future, (or at least possible future scenarios relevant to people working in defence areas) and had benefitted from visualisations by DSIG, which had been helpful when selling the idea to senior stakeholders. I think there was a some more stuff in there too, but I was so overwhelmed by the management speak that I may have zoned out.

Bruce Tether from Manchester Business School followed with the promise of enlightening us about ‘investigating the contingent value of investments in design’. I feel the same way about academic language as I do about management speak. It is boring, and it doesn’t aid understanding. Bruce’s talk was an unfortunate combination of the two. He felt that it was important to distinguish between innovators and inventors is, and protect the intellectual property of designers, to prevent imitation. He mentioned the difference in robustness of intellectual property laws across different areas – for example, IP protection in pharmaceuticals is incredibly effective, but design protection (particularly in physical form) is weak. I would have really liked him to mention Elle Decoration’s ‘Equal rights for design’  campaign which was incredibly successful in raising awareness of the limitations of existing copyright laws for design, and influential in pushing through an amendment to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill.

Chris Warkup was up next. Warkup is the CEO of the Knowledge Transfer Network, so oversees 14 different special interest groups and is not an expert on design or anything to do with design. He was very clear on that. He also said this: “I am a biologist, and in science, design has unfortunate connotations, as we tend to associate it with the word intelligent”. I get it Chris, you’re making a funny joke about how intelligent design is this whole Christian thing, and biologists are normally all about Darwin, not creationism. But the thing is, it also kinda sounded like you were also talking about how designers aren’t associated with being intelligent. Maybe I’m being over sensitive here, but that’s kind of what it came across like.

He also managed to make ‘creatives’ sound like an entirely different species. As if creative people exist in their own creative universe, thinking about typefaces and form and pretty surfaces, unfettered by the complicated boringness of running businesses and making money. So here’s the thing Chris. Design covers a lot of areas. Designers are often incredibly technical people doing incredibly complex things. Many designers come from scientific backgrounds. Many designers also run their own businesses, so know more about the day to day functioning of companies than most. Designers have incredibly wide areas of expertise that span across whole categories of interest. Designers are not distinct from everyone else in their own little creative universe. So when you say things like “it surprises my colleagues that I am so supportive of creative endeavours when I am such a boffin”, you’ll forgive me for wondering if I’ve been transported back to 1959 and am listening to CP Snow talking about the two cultures of art and science.

The penultimate talker was Gillian Youngs who is a professor of digital economy at the University of Brighton, who was talking about designing the digital revolution. Interestingly, she mentioned that one of the strengths of design, was that it ‘allows us to explore ethics’ especially in the realm of big data, which is all too often treated like a thing, rather than information about people. Unfortunately at this point I managed to skilfully pour my drink into my bag, so got a bit preoccupied by rescuing my laptop from rivers of elderflower cordial, and missed the rest of this 5 minutes. She seems super interesting though, and I would like to talk to her in the future about design and the digital economy. Perhaps at a time and a place when there are no drinks to tip over.

The last speaker was Alexandra Deschamps Sonsino, founder of DesignSwarm and product designer. She was also the only designer to talk at the event. Which was an event about design. And had only been asked to speak, 3 days prior to the event, but anyway. She has been involved in the ‘Internet of Things’ (so, smart phones, smart watches etc) for 10 years, and said that for 8 of those years, most people thought she was crazy. It is only past 2, that there is a greater understanding of what the internet of things actually involves- so the connectivity between objects, users, and the internet. She used her 5 minutes not to talk about herself and her projects, but about what she’d like to see for the future of design led start ups. Founding an organisation that creates ‘smart’ objects is incredibly expensive (the electronics involved and data storage alone will eat up 80% of most budgets), and the cost of a start up can be anywhere between £80,000 to £250,000. The UK is especially bad at providing opportunities for funding, either through government money, or venture capitalists, which means that we are losing a lot of our young innovators and designers to the US, where funding is more readily available. For Britain to really lead the way in technology, design and innovation, we need to make funding easier to find, and encourage financing from private sources by championing the benefits of design.

After listening to the talks, we got the opportunity to ‘contribute directly to public policy’. This was via a giant board and a frankly obscene amount of post it notes. In the middle of the board was a sign asking us ‘Imagine that designers were a political party. What would we propose?’, and surrounding it were subsections such as ‘foreign office’, ‘transport policy’ and ‘environment’. The idea was that we were supposed to write all of our inspirational policy ideas down on the post it notes and stick them into the areas/departments that they were most relevant to. Pleasingly, I was not the only guest who was completely baffled by the concept of this board, which not only unwilling to have notes stick to it for any length of time, but also swaying slightly drunkenly back and forth. Most of the comments that had succeeded in sticking, were much more general, rather relevant to individual sections, such as ‘please define design’ and ‘stop making it sound like ‘creatives’ are a different species!’ (ok i admit it, the last one may have been mine…)

manifesto for design

Good design is important. Great design changes lives. I think design is an incredibly important part of every single faction of society. I truly subscribe to Bill Moggridge’s view that “Few people think about it or are aware of it. But there is nothing made by human beings that does not involve a design decision somewhere.” It is really encouraging to go to an event where the majority of guests feel the same way, and are championing the use of design in the manufacturing process. It is especially encouraging that government organisations are holding these events and cheerleading British design in such a major way. I just wish that they would do it in a less governmenty manner, with fewer working groups and sub groups, and baffling terminology. I am interested to see what the DSIG does next, and how its work continues to support design, innovation and technology, but what I would really like to see, is a bit more clarity and a future that is just a bit better designed.

The myth of QWERTY

Remember the crushing sense of disappointment of finding out that Santa was not in fact, actually real? I was devastated. I felt so embarrassed about being seemingly being the last person EVER to have found this fact out. I had written considerably about and to Santa, and felt so naïve to have assumed that just because so many people said something was true, I automatically assumed it was. Well just recently I experienced a plethora of similar reactions. The history of technology is full of quite nice stories to regale people with, and one of my favourite ones, is the history of the QWERTY keyboard. Except it turns out, that all this time, I’ve actually been wrong. Awkward.

My lovely neat story was essentially about technological ‘lock in’ or the idea that we get stuck using some systems, that aren’t necessarily all that great, because, for a variety of reasons, social and technological, they become ubiquitous. A good (or so I thought) example of this was the reason why most western computers use the QWERTY keyboard. Legend has it, that Christopher Latham Sholes, the designer of the first typewriter in 1868 put commonly used letters at a distance from each other, to slow typists down, and prevent the mechanical keys from jamming. Because the Remmington typewriter was so successful, this particular layout became the definitive one over others used, and thus won out over other, more efficient systems, such as the Dvorak keyboard, purely because it came first. It’s a nice story, because it shows how some technologies win out over others, not because they’re the most efficient ones, but for a variety of reasons. Except that it’s wrong.

According to recent research to come out of the University of Kyoto, there is no evidence that proves or even indicates that Sholes’ (and his oft forgotten typewriter designing buddies Carlos Glidden, Samuel Willard Soule, James Densmore) were trying to prevent mechanical jamming by speedy typists. In fact, it went through several design phases before it began to look like the keyboard that we know and use today. Originally, it was laid out in a way that looked a little similar to a piano keyboard, and had no numerals. It was only when one of their first customers, Porter’s telegraph college, in Chicago suggested that in order to receive and write down telegraph messages, numbers would be helpful. As a result of this, Sholes and Mattias Schwalbach redesigned it to contain some numerals (no 0 or 1) and some punctuation marks. Other customers who were using typewriters to write down morse code letters changed the layout around on different models to suit different needs.

(Keyboard of Hughes-Phelps printing telegraph)

It was only when the Manufacturer E. Remmington & Sons started to show an interest in the typewriter, that the keyboard started to look a little bit more like the configuration that we have today, although that in itself, as the authors of the papers prove, was via a complicated series of decisions, and for some reason, a strong desire of Sholes’ to have the key Y right in the centre of keyboard. Neatly, this also allowed the user of the first Remmington typewriter, (or the ‘Sholes & Glidden Type-writer, to give it its official name) to spell out ‘typewriter’ using just the first row of keys. Still though, this was not the layout that we use today, and commonly associate with the conventional QWERTY keyboard. It wasn’t until 1898, 30 years after the unveiling of the first typewriter that 5 of the major typewriter producers (all owned by a majority shareholder) adopted the current layout that has become ‘locked in’ today.

Of course, this is still a story about how certain technologies develop, and impacting factors on them, indeed it opens up a lot of very interesting questions about technologies influencing other technologies, especially in communication (for example, the technology of  morse code, directly impacting the technology that so many of use to type new communication technologies, such as emails). It’s just not as neat and compact a story as I had previously thought. History is full of urban myths that have seeped into popular consciousness- Archimedes probably didn’t come up with displacement theory and shout ‘Eureka!’ in the bath and although there is evidence that Newton did certainly enjoy watching apples fall, none that indicates that one hit him on the head, thus leading to his development of the theory of gravity. These are engaging ways of explaining often complicated ideas, but the emergence of the QWERTY keyboard shows that technological emergence is never really straightforward- it doesn’t always follow a linear pattern that solely faces forward in a neat and organised way, but instead weaves around in peculiar and complicated ways