Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Which? best buys: I don't buy this format

Which? the consumer testing magazine and website, can be remarkably dense sometimes. We were looking at food mixers and Kenwood have done brilliantly in bagging the top four Best Buy slots.


Well done, Kenwood. The red one was best, then the white one, then the cream-coloured one, then the black one. Yes, they are the same mixer in different colours. 

Assuming they don't actually test the different colours separately, I reckon this is an information design problem. This format doesn't allow them to do the sensible thing and present this as one product with colour variants.

They could just call it the 'Kenwood KMix KMX754...', and the next column could list the colour variants.

Sh*t, S**t, S***

A friend remarked approvingly that I used the word 'shit' in a recent post. It's odd how words shift their position on the spectrum of rudery (or should that be prudery).

My late mother, who would have given Hyacinth Bucket a run for her money (although she was the real thing), would use the word freely (as in 'I've put chicken shit on my roses'), as a straight synonym for manure. 

I always think that when a newspaper prints a coyly bleeped word like 'sh*t' it forces me to think of all the rude words I know that might fit - not very edifying. Sometimes I'm stumped which makes me feel rather naïve.

I mentioned this in this blog a few years ago, after seeing the word 'w***e' in a headline. Click here for the answer, which disappointingly isn't even rude (unless someone is using to describe you). 

End of the Argos catalogue, end of an era

The Argos catalogue is no more. If you are the reader of this blog who lives outside the UK, I should explain that this was like a mail order catalogue but no mailing was involved. Argos has stores in every town, where you can/could browse a catalogue and order every kind of stuff, which was stored in a back room, mostly not on display. It inevitably moved online, and after acquisition by Sainsbury's the stores are moving to supermarkets.

Argos does a remarkable job of making a wide range of stuff available in small towns which now longer have specialist shops. At one of our early summer schools the host institution failed to supply a projector... so we popped out to Argos and bought the one we still use. 

Some of the vox pop comments in radio interviews struck a chord. Most homes had an Argos catalogue and in the pre-internet days it gave kids access to window-shopping. Families would browse the catalogue together and plan purchases, voice their aspirations and drop birthday present hints.



I'm not sure what the current figures are, but when Argos was a client in the 2000s the figures were astonishing and surprising: for example, they were one of the largest jewellers, furniture retailers and suppliers of electrical goods. Most of the photographers in Milton Keynes where they were based seemed to be sustained by product shots for the catalogue.

The production of the catalogue was a major operation involving five or six printing plants around Europe, and several binderies. They were delivered on pallets near the door of Argos stores for people to take home. When we asked about recycled paper it emerged that there wasn't enough recycled paper in Europe to print the Argos catalogue.

Every now and again they would ask us to review a particular aspect of the catalogue and propose improvements. We treated these projects as exercises in decision support, helping people to choose what features and qualities they needed, and which products had them. We would produce beautifully crafted explanations which were then made rather naffer by in-house designers to fit in with the brash Argos brand.

It was a fascinating encounter with the world of retail. For example, Good Better Best: a typical product range has to have basic products (good), an average products (better) and a top end (best). Some customers will invariably buy from one of these relative price points. 

When we worked on the Argos jewellery section, it included a diamond ring priced well over £3,000  although the average jewellery purchase was under £10. No one I spoke to could remember the expensive ring ever being sold but its job was to be Best and lift the image of the Argos jewellery brand. The recipient of a gifted ring could not know for sure that the giver was a cheapskate.

Friday, July 31, 2020

Why do flies shit on our HomePod?

It's a little hard to see in this picture, but there are several black flies sitting on our black Apple HomePod, which has dots of black fly shit on top. Why do they do it? There's nothing in the user guide.

Oddly enough I haven't seen this commented on. It's rare to get a dead end on Google.


Things you can't do in Madeira

Following the popular series of posts 'Things you can't do...' (2013), here's what we weren't allowed to do in Madeira last year.

I particularly like 'no walking on stilts near ladies', and 'don't do a poo while walking on water', although it meant the holiday wasn't much fun.





Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Gender neutral icons

Classic Isotype charts are sometimes referred to as 'rows of little men'. But how could we instead show rows of little persons?

I love this gender neutral icon which Tesco are using in their supermarkets. Just by stretching the arms out a little, it allows people of any gender identity to see themselves in it - it could be wearing a dress (or have wider hips) or perhaps its arms are just positioned like this.















The Noun Project has various other attempts:
The one on the left by Dan Brunsdon is typical of solutions which just combine icons - not so much gender neutral as both-genders. 

 I quite like the right hand one by James Walker, with its suggestion of hips.

Monday, March 16, 2020

RIP Michael Hertz

I regret I wasn't aware of him until he died, but the designer of the New York subway map passed away recently, and there's an interesting obit in the NY Times.


When clients drop the ball

Karen Schriver recently tweeted: "What do Information designers do when a client spends a large sum to do a high-profile project, but then drops the ball and has no time to manage it?"

This is all too familiar, and over a long career I've had a few of these experiences, some of which are possibly still covered by NDAs or the Official Secrets Act so detail is not possible. They are infuriating and disappointing because even if we have charged for our work that's not the only reason we do it – we want to do great stuff and improve the world.

One notable one from around 20 years ago was a major government form that almost every citizen uses. We redesigned it and ran a large scale live pilot which showed we'd dramatically reduced error rates. The government agency realised that each error took a civil servant around 30 minutes to deal with, and the reduction in errors therefore meant that they would have to fire or redeploy around 1000 people, leading to a probable trade union dispute. They just took some minor aspects of our work which reduced errors by around 6%, which was their target for the project.

I have also heard civil servants worry that the improvement was so great that it would make them look like idiots for putting up with the old version for so long.

And I have had work ruined by in-house designers or contracted branding agencies who were tasked with implementing it, and digital teams who insist on controlling everything.

Oh well...

Monday, February 24, 2020

This is a sign

Looking back at those huge but ineffectual anti-Brexit marches, at least the signs were great. I particularly liked this one which wasn't picked up in the press coverage (yes, I was there so now you know what I think of Brexit).


Thursday, February 20, 2020

Dodgy chart hits the front page

It's not often you see information design cited in a political row but today the Number 10 press office tweeted about a dodgy chart used in an EU statement about trade relations with the UK. It's reported more fully on the Politico.eu website.

The EU published a chart showing the scale of trading relationships with various partners. It uses circles to represent amounts, and I've blogged about this before (well, it's nine years ago now...).



You shouldn't do that because humans can't compare volumes as well as they compare lengths. This is what Isotype was about...

Below left is the comparison they made. Then I've show the comparison by length, and, even better, horizontal bars with a block for every 10 billion and the figures provided.



According to Politico.eu:
'David Spiegelhalter, a professor of the public understanding of risk at Cambridge University, said the Commission's approach was "indefensible" and went against "standard graphical practice."
"It's also the biggest mistake to make. It's incorrect to use diameter to represent volume," he said, adding that it was "the sort of thing a junior person would do."'
...or a graphic designer, I'm afraid.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Hello again

After a break of more than three years, this blog is back.

I stopped in 2016 because of various distractions, notably the rebuilding of our home and the design and construction of the garden, which is my pride and joy.

It's all settled down now, so I'm once again in need of an outlet for my opinions, observations and anxieties... however few people are listening.