DiBi #1: Designing for users, not devices

Last week, I got to attend the 2016 Design it Build it (DiBi) conference at the Hub in Edinburgh. This is one in a series of three posts about my adventures.

One of the early talks at DiBi was by Anna Debenham on Games Console Browsers. Usage on these might be a bit higher than you think: Anna quotes that 26% of 14–24 year olds in the UK use consoles to visit websites. Interestingly, in an effort to get pages to render normally, most console browsers tell lies in their user agent strings – so it’s actually quite difficult to measure usage on them. But it was this slide that showed a tweet by Will Roissetter that really stood out:

A student completed their Student Loan Application on a Nintendo DS

The Hub filled with laughter from all the delegates at this seemingly strange behaviour. But then a memory stirred, and I began to feel a little… uncomfortable.

In August 2012, I completed my final student finance application using an Xbox 360.

Yeah, yeah… laugh it up.

My excuse at the time was that my laptop had died and had been shipped away for service. As to why I didn’t use my phone: no idea. But the point here is that I doubt this was a scenario Student Finance accounted for – but it worked.

Anna quickly pointed out that while she would go into detail on some of the console based browsers – her talk wasn’t really about games consoles. It was about how every screen can (and in many cases has) become some sort of web browser. Traditional “mobile” devices aside we now have web browsers on digital cameras, printers, cars, exercise equipment – even taps.

Now this is not a pitch to drop everything, go back and make everything you’ve ever built support a web browser in a digital smoothie maker*. The warning here was to not fall prey to designing things for the current three “device silos”.

This theme was echoed a lot in other talks: when designing for the web, design for users not for specific devices or specific screen resolutions. Not only will you create something that is much more future-proof, but it will help reduce technical debt. Ryan O’Conner, UX Creative Director for BBC News digital, spoke of his regrets when redesigning the BBC News app which launched early last year which – though it is responsive in its design – had loads of different “templates” for specific different devices and resolutions. They had quickly thrown in lots of variants and tweaks for very specific cases – and this has already become unmaintainable.

Because, silly device examples aside, the broad categories we’re becoming familiar with – mobile, tablet, computer – don’t make sense any more. Tablets and phones come in pretty much every shape and size now with the lines blurred between them (I will not use this word, ever). Combined laptop / tablets are becoming more popular. A desktop connected to a large screen can’t really be considered identical to a tiny netbook.

So destroy the silos, comrades! We can’t play catch-up forever designing to whatever device is “in” right now, or assuming everyone will or won’t do things on a specific device.

There will be more to follow on my exploits at DiBi over the next few days: apologies it’s taking me so long – I insisted on writing this on the web browser built in to my new internet enabled pepper mill**.

* Author not thorough enough to check if this was a thing or not.
** Patent pending.

Reflections on UCISA 16 conference

“Sue, that is surely the best conference I have ever attended”

This was what I said to Sue Fells who is the Business and Operations Manager at UCISA. Rarely have I come away from a conference and felt that something happened when I was there that will make me think completely differently. To attend a conference where each presentation leaves you asking questions is very very rare but that is exactly what happened.

When I was thinking and preparing about how I was going to write this blog I was wondering what pieces would be most interesting to staff in Apps Division, what could I take back that would encourage people to build on what we were doing and what could really motivate people to develop the initiatives we are heavily underway with?

So my planning for this started before I went, which sessions would I go to? Which vendors would I speak to? How could I use this time with the Director and other colleagues to really make the most out of the event? Lots of plans, lots of ideas, great I’m ready to go!

What I didn’t expect was that a lot of my preparation as it turns out would be replaced by my reaction to the experience!!!

I could go into length about the sessions I went to, I have many notes I can assure you. But in truth pictures paint more words than I should in a blog and so with that in mind I have linked two of the key presentations into this blog. I would encourage everyone who reads this to take a look at my highlight talks… Really it’s worth it.

First of All

California dreamin’ presented by Hilary Baker, Vice President for Information Technology and CIO at California State University.

Hilary’s presentation surrounded the approach she and her colleagues had taken to engage with their students (41548 students) at CSU, to encourage them to participate in the development of their own experience at the University, with the ultimate objective of increasing student graduation rates.

Hilary asked students how they could use technology to make it better for them as they tried to manage their degree process, navigate their experience at the University and also to prepare them for careers in the future. What a great package of objectives!

They set up a competition called AppJam where students were invited to create teams of students with skills from a range of specialist areas who would collaborate to develop ideas and mock-ups and prototypes for apps that could be incorporated into the institutional App called CSUN mobile. The students would be asked to present their ideas and prototypes and a winner would be chosen which would actually become a real part of the App. I guess they got 24 teams because they also had a rather nice cash reward into the bargain, but again lots of great real world experience there.

Have a look at the presentation and learn how this all went and why they are going to grow the idea going forward!

Really inspirational ideas and commitment from Hilary and her team.

A great phrase Hilary used really underlined the real success story of their project. “Students Can No Longer Escape Learning”


Creative Leadership by Jamie Anderson, Professor of Strategic management at Antwerp Management School and Visiting Professor at London Business School.

Now this is what you call a life changer. I defy anyone to see this presentation and to not be blown away by it! Really I think this is surely one of the most insightful presentation I have seen ever!

Jamie takes the audience on a journey of self-discovery, something that will leave you really thinking about many diverse things but specifically what we all need to do in order to be creative in our work.

I will not spoil the fantastic experience of following him on the journey and encourage you to take about 45 minutes to treat yourself!

If there was ever a presentation that would make you sit up and listen then his is it.

Please do take a look at this!

All of the presentations can be found here, and registration is a simple process of adding your email address.

Building a WebJar

As part of the rollout to the new University Website, a Global Experience Language was developed for Edinburgh University, which was named Edinburgh GEL. The implementation of the GEL is based on Bootstrap.

In order to easily fold this into our Java Web Applications, I wanted to create a WebJar which would allow developers to quickly pull in the Edinburgh GEL and immediately begin to use the resources.

Continue reading “Building a WebJar”