The internet the world

Exhaustion and hyper vigilance

There’s a real way in which the business models, the technological underpinnings of how we get our … political information, have oriented towards outrage and urgency. And so I think that there’s a deep way in which we are manipulated into … feeling a constant state of emergency. And it would be one thing if that was a productive emotion, but what I think it leads to is a constant state of either exhaustion or hypervigilance, both of which can be bad in their own ways. — Ezra Klein

This quote is from a conversation between Ezra Klein and Krista Tippett about politics, polarisation and the media. Something about it though, also reminded me of what it feels like in dysfunctional organisations.

Ezra Klein — How We Walked Into This and How We Can Walk Out



Content strategy meets design system

Feb 10 was a joint meet-up between Sydney Content Strategy and the Design Systems meetups. The speakers were:

  • Tony Starr, Content Design Manager for the Atlassian Cloud Platform and Product Content Standards;
  • Steven Berends, formally at the DTA and currently founder of Bear Lion Bird and on assignment at the Australian Trade and Investment Commission.

Both speakers outlined projects and the underlying principles where content has evolved alongside and within design systems. Anthony Starr titled his talk “Strive for 73% content in your design system”. This was not about content playing second fiddle and both talks showed that mature product and service design teams are merging design systems and content strategy.

So what’s in a system?

  • Pattern libraries and style guides but keep these short, usable, and readable
  • Style and grammar: voice and tone, mechanics, glossaries
  • Resources for writing user-facing documentation, emails, in product help, and other content
  • Examples of best practice

The problem that content strategy and content design systems are solving for:

  • The friction caused by inconsistency across ecosystem of websites and services
  • Creating consistency throughout the user journey
  • Capturing institutional knowledge

As always

  • Start with user needs, meet the user story


  • Identify indicators as well as measures – e.g. 0 searches on pages can infer unmet needs


  • Consider a content style council to manage decisions. The metaphor of a tree was used to show this system of decisions
  • Root decisions
    • Terminology
    • Voice and tone
    • Brand guidelines
    • Messaging (think microcopy of interactions)
    • Organisational styles
  • Trunk decisions
    • Glossary
    • Product terminology
    • In-product experiences
    • ‘Spicy’ style and grammar choices
  • Branch decisions
    • Content patterns
  • Leaf decisions:
    • Product guidelines
    • Standards and style choices

Form communities of practice, be visible to embed use:

  • Team up with Brand to increase ‘capacity through the system’
  • Allow uniqueness, and
    • incorporate new patterns into the system
    • also ask that people document why they have created a new pattern
  • Keep agile practice, interaction design, and developers close
  • Socialise wherever and whenever possible. Examples included:
    • Through project delivery
    • laying the groundwork with stakeholders
    • being visible in Slack/social channels
    • speaking at in house events
    • attending team and project brainstorm sessions
    • considering a service design to support the design and content system

Thanks as always to Elle Geraghty for organising an amazing free community event. For more info on future meetups by these organisers go to: and

If you want to learn more another write-up of the meetup was captured by Mattia Fregola at and a video of one of the talks is available at


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“It’s much better to be a learn-it-all than a know-it-all” Steve Vamos

“I think design thinking and agile which are big trends in business today are a reflection of the fact that if you are building anything without customer feedback today you are deluded”

“Mistakes are learning. You cannot innovate, create and progress without mistakes”

HT to my friend Pauline Lucas for sharing this with me.

The Work Experience

Agile teams thread.

Agile or not, lots to reflect on and love in this thread on agile teams (threadreaderapp) by Susanne Husebo. It start likes this:

  • They start their daily standups on time.
  • They tend to laugh a lot and have fun.
  • Everybody in the team gets to express themselves.
  • They correct and edit each other when they go off track.
  • They try out new things with appetite. But they are quite willing to admit those things didn’t succeed.
  • They often don’t care very much if it looks like they’re working hard.

and gets better and better. See the original tweet here.

Design Product design Research

Ethnography Makes Products

I share this introduction with you here for your interest and, should you find it useful, for you to re-use with a couple of conditions — see the end for what they are. But in the meantime, enjoy.

Ethnographic research informed the design of Ikea rechargeable lamps, The Fisher & Paykel Dish Drawer, and the Whirlpool Duet.

Ethnography Makes Products

We’re a product design team…so why are we doing research? Design starts with research. It’s how we define the customer brief. In this project we used ethnography…diary studies with customers, visiting their homes, interviewing them to understand their behaviour…what they do…because ethnography makes products.

  • At Google designers use all sorts of data but they also talk to users and watch them use YouTube in their home to see if people use their products the way they expect them to. (1)
  • IKEA routinely visit people in their homes to understand what they need, particularly in small living spaces. The results are every imaginable shelf but also beautiful rechargeable batteries that can be disguised as books, or wireless charging furniture (2) (3).
  • The idea behind Fisher & Paykel’s Dish Drawer (4) came not by looking at dishwashers but by examining the way people used their kitchen. The design team took inspiration from an unrelated kitchen function – the drawer – and created a hybrid between the two.

This process is not about finding answers in quantitative data.

  • The Whirlpool duet was designed by watching people in their homes walk through their laundry process (5). One observation, one data point — seeing someone raise their front-load washing machine with a palette, led to the invention of the pedestal and introduced accessories to the washing machine category.
  • And at Telstra…a combination of strategy, design thinking and lean startup led to Online Essentials. The original question concerned domain and web hosting. We visited customers at their businesses to understand their DIY approach to web site publishing and marketing and conceived an experience to solve their problems.

For years in concept and usability testing sessions customers have been giving us hints about their concerns around … (here is where I shared the customer anecdotes and proof points that helped us form a hypothesis to make the case for conducting the research in the first place.)

We’re at the beginning of a design process. What will you get out of today…

  • An understanding of what customers are experiencing
  • How this might translate as new experiences we deliver to our customers

I’ll now hand over to the team now so we can hear what they learned.


  1. 5 questions for YouTube’s lead UX researcher
    “To answer those questions, I’m constantly doing both qualitative and quantitative research—everything from talking to users and watching them use YouTube in their homes, to carrying out lab studies to see if people use our products the way we expect them to.”
  2. How Ikea took over the World:
    “The company frequently does home visits and—in a practice that blends research with reality TV—will even send an anthropologist to live in a volunteer’s abode. Ikea recently put up cameras in people’s homes in Stockholm, Milan, New York, and Shenzhen, China, to better understand how people use their sofas. What did they learn? “They do all kinds of things except sitting and watching TV,” Ydholm says. The Ikea sleuths found that in Shenzhen, most of the subjects sat on the floor using the sofas as a backrest. “I can tell you seriously we for sure have not designed our sofas according to people sitting on the floor and using a sofa like that,” says Ydholm.”
  3. Ikea presents: Life at Home Report 2017
  4. Fisher and Paykel: Designing difference:
  5. A Case for Good Design. Part One: Whirlpool’s Duet Series:

Conditions of Use
Works on this site are published under a creative commons attribution and share alike license.  So if you do use this refrain from publishing under your name, and please let me know if you do use it by posting a comment here. Also, if you use alternate examples in an adapted work, let me know what they are. Heck! If you have any favourite examples of ethnographic research contributing to UX, product, or service design, let me know in the comments.

Service design

“The thing I have noticed is that when the anecdotes and the data disagree, the anecdotes are usually right”

Bezos said it was important for him to stay directly connected with customers because it was easy to fall into the trap of relying too heavily on data and metrics. “I’m actually a big fan of anecdotes in business,” he said.

“We have tons of metrics, we have weekly business reviews, metric decks, we know so many things about the customers — whether we’re delivering on time, whether the packages have too much air in them — we have so many metrics that we monitor. And the thing I have noticed is that when the anecdotes and the data disagree, the anecdotes are usually right.

“There’s something wrong with the way you’re measuring it. When you’re shipping billions of packages a year, for sure you need good data and metrics, but then you need to check that data with your intuition and your instincts.”

Jeff Bezos

Not to downplay the many criticisms of Jeff Bezos, particularly working conditions there is no doubting the impact of the company’s customer obsession. I was struck at how much importance is placed on direct customer feedback, particularly for a data driven company.

Read the whole article at