Making good sense of the things that we find

Thursday, 29 April 2010

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Thursday, 15 January 2009

User’s user guide

As my little boy keeps growing, I need to lengthen the straps on his pushchair. Where is that user guide? A quick search on the web and I needn’t stress, as a helpful mum has recorded her own guide for the task on ‘You Tube’. Really useful, as it actually shows you how to release that tricky clip that the normal user guide claims is so easy.

Is this the end of the manufacturer's paper user guide?


Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Apple lift affords trouble

The arrival of an iPod nano in Santa’s sack this Christmas meant a trip to the Apple Store, Milton Keynes to buy a nano cover. I’ll say cover, although it could just as easily been a case, pouch, jacket, folio, sleeve, holster, vest, or even an armband. (Surely the nano is also crying out for a gilet – or a body warmer for anybody who was anybody in the early 80s.)

Anyway, it wasn’t the nano couture that confused me and the rest of family Stanton, it was the lift. You see, I was under the impression that Apple are dedicated to making things easier and more fun to use. The store is certainly very smart, but something seemed to go awry when they got to the lift, which you can just about see in the far left corner of this picture.

Firstly, there’s no call button anywhere near the door. Luckily, we’re a bright bunch, and it only took us a minute or two to twig that the two foot long vertical brushed-steel bar on the left of the door is a handle and meant we needed to pull the door open to reveal the lift within. However, despite a festive diet of sprouts and Jerusalem artichokes to build up our strength, no amount of tugging from the four of us could wrench the door open. Suddenly it hit us; the steel bar posing as a door handle required us not to pull but to push instead. Of course, just like the Start button in Windows is where you go to shut down! It must be a door bar for geniuses – or a genius bar as Apple seem to like to call them.

Once inside the vestibule, the lift is reassuringly uncomplicated – it has up and down buttons, slidey doors, and a sign telling you to add up how much you all weigh before you set off. Except that the lift compartment is open so you can see and touch the sides of the lift shaft as the lift compartment goes up. Unfortunately, just like the handle outside ‘demanded’ that I pull it, the affordance of moving walls proved too much temptation for a four-year. She poked out a finger triggering some kind of sensor and the lift stopped.

Under normal circumstances, having this kind of trouble with a lift might have given me cause for concern over the family’s collective problem-solving skills, but the fact that one of the store assistants took the trouble to explain how the lift worked before we began our descent from the first floor back to ground eased my fears. Obviously, it’s not just the Macs they’re used to explaining. They're even pictured here apparently celebrating one man's successful trip.

Anyway, I’m pretty sure that if the lifts at Apple’s HQ are anything like the ones in the Apple Store, MK, that could explain why Steve Jobs is not at Macworld 2009. He’s just got stuck.

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Sunday, 23 November 2008

VAT vindication

I was interested to read today that Mr Darling (of the fearsome eyebrows) may be planning a change to the VAT rate, perhaps a VAT vacation. But the story piqued my interest not because of the impact on my pocket, no matter how substantial. No, I'm afraid my thoughts turned immediately to bill design, which probably says something deeply alarming about my psyche. The truth is that after too many years in this job I fear I've become a secret VAT nerd.

But now, finally, my vindication looms. Many times, we've advised people redesigning their bills to program their VAT rate as variable data that they can change easily, rather than hard-coding it. So for instance we advise them to program a line that says 'VAT at [insert VAT rate]%' rather than 'VAT at 17.5%'. And we've also insisted many times on working through and agreeing a bill presentation that shows multiple VAT rates. It seems simple, but for those clients who've never seen a VAT rate change, or who work in industries like telecoms that don't often use multiple VAT rates, getting this agreed is sometimes a bit of a battle. After all, I barely remember the last VAT rate change myself. But if this VAT holiday goes through, a lot of bills are going to need to show the new rate - and more importantly, they are going to need to show some charges at the old rate, and some at the new rate. So that multiple VAT rate presentation that we insisted on, and which is lurking dustily at the back of the bill design cupboard, will emerge all shiny and sensible to save the day. And the twenty minutes in a bill workshop when a client stared at us in bafflement as we explained that one day, some day, the VAT rate might change will finally be worth it.

So today, for a change, I actually feel ok about being a VAT nerd. I just hope that there aren't any developers out there wishing they'd programmed things differently...

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Friday, 17 October 2008

Symbols used to mark references have no name*

There is absolutely no name** for typographical symbols that are used to mark references in text.

I mean those characters – often they are asterisks, or daggers, or even double daggers – that are used to tell you that not all is as it seems. Or that it's time to read the small print. Or that the 20% discount offer is actually only available during a full moon.

If you can tell me the name of these symbols, I'll post you a box of chocolates.‡

* As far as I know.
** As far as I know.
‡ As long as you live in my road.


Monday, 6 October 2008

Font of confusion

I was intrigued to read in this week’s Design Week (2 Oct 2008) that:
“Salisbury Cathedral’s new font, designed by water sculptor William Pye, was consecrated by the Archbishop of Canterbury on Sunday.”

Firstly, I was surprised that Salisbury Cathedral were taking their brand concerns so seriously that they’d chosen to have their own typeface cut. And secondly, I was impressed that the Archbishop had consecrated it. Of course, it turns out that the font is a font font, and not (as I first thought) a font. I hope that’s all clear now.

I’ve tried to excuse my own brief confusion on the grounds that I’m used to constant references in our studio to fonts in the typographical sense. But it all served as a timely reminder that words with multiple meanings need to be used carefully.

Next time I’m wondering why I need to explain a word or phrase that seems obvious to me, maybe I’ll remember how words and phrases can have more than one meaning, and my baptismal blog here.

You can read about Salisbury Cathedral’s new font on their website.

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Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Lovely grammar quote

Found this the other day – pardon the archaic punctuation. I should note that when training, we do emphasise that a lot of supposed grammar 'rules' are not relevant to modern writing (depending on tone of voice rules from brand, where necessary).

"When I read some of the rules for speaking and writing the English language
correctly, -- as that a sentence must never end with a participle, -- and
perceive how implicitly even the learned obey it, I think -- Any fool can make
a rule -- And every fool will mind it."
Henry David Thoreau, naturalist and author (1817-1862)