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January 2019 bookmarks

Your Talk of the Year?
One of the things I noticed last year is how often people who are on the speaking circuit basically give the same talk, over, and over again.
Changing the name of a service
Hi, I'm Colin and I'm working on improving Healthy Start which assists vulnerable parents and children to get access to milk, fruit, vegetables and infant formula. This blog post is about how and why the team is changing the name of the service.
Stepping away from Sass
I try to rebuild or redesign my website at least once every year, it's a great way to keep up to date with HTML and CSS advances as well as workflows and site generators. I launched the latest version last month moving from Jekyll and Github pages to Eleventy and Netlify.
Interact London 2019
Interact London is a leading design conference that explores the roles that digital design, user experience, artificial intelligence, strategy, and everything in between play in today's society.
A progression framework is a tool that maps people's competencies (their skills and knowledge) to compensation (how they're rewarded for them financially).
The Design Sprint Canvas
We've been running Design Sprints for a long time at Clearleft and are constantly reminded of their power and ability to tackle challenges and test out hypotheses - essentially fast-tracking processes which traditional may have taken considerably longer.
Communities of Practice: The Missing Piece of Your Agile Organisation
Communities of practice regularly bring together people who share areas of interest or concerns. They are loose structures that support their members and the organisation's development of those areas. They often form around a specific job role but can also centre on a specific area of interest.
You don't know what you're missing without session replay.
Replay removes the guesswork from reproducing bugs by providing a detailed console log of JavaScript errors with every session recording. Press play for real-time QA, debugging, and issue tracking to give your developers back their time.
Understanding services through user needs
Understanding the needs of our users is an integral part of building a service that works for everyone. You may have seen blog posts from the user research team documenting our work towards a better understanding of our users' needs for the UK Parliament website.
BEM for everyone else
I'd heard the term Block Element Modifier (BEM) used by many of the frontend developers I've worked with over the years. It wasn't until I started on my current project that I actually needed to understand what it was or what the benefits of using it might be.
Accessible SVG flowcharts
The accessible SVG line graphs post explains how to use ARIA table semantics to make that form of data visualisation accessible to screen readers. This article uses the same ARIA based approach to make a screen reader accessible SVG flowchart.
VoiceOver and list-style-type: none
Update: Thanks to @HugoGiraudel and @gumnos for pointing out that I can use zero-width space would be a cleaner solution. I have updated the code below to reflect this.
Make Time
Make Time is Jake's new book. It's about creating time and finding focus in daily life. Coming in September 2018.
What does the CEO of Front do?
At the beginning of Front, my job was to do everything that wasn't engineering: sales, support, product management, hiring, marketing, etc. We were small enough that everyone could literally see my direct contributions and understand what my job was.
Research Questions Are Not Interview Questions
The most significant source of confusion in design research is the difference between research questions and interview questions. This confusion costs time and money and leads to a lot of managers saying that they tried doing research that one time and nothing useful emerged.
Title Texts Suck
Here below is a link with a title text. Hold your mouse pointer over it for a while and a small text will pop up. That's the title text. It's added with the title-attribute in the link. Title texts only show up on hover, and you can't hover on 99.9% of all touch screens.
The End of the Beginning of Digital Service Units
This week, digital HKS is partnering with Public Digital to convene digital services units from around the world. We will talk about what is and, more importantly, what is not working, with their work.
Creating Accessible SVGs
Scalable Vector Graphics (SVGs) have been around since 1999, but they have seen a real resurgence in use as design interactions have become more complex and CSS/JavaScript have replaced antiquated animation programs such as Adobe Flash. There are plenty of reasons to use SVGs today including:
Happo is a visual regression testing service for React.
Happo hooks in to your CI environment and takes screenshots of your application in a multitude of browsers and across different viewport sizes. It gives you a summarized report of all the visual differences introduced by a code change/commit.
Starting a Design System
There are a lot of great articles about design systems, but I'm not sure I've seen much written about how to start one. When SuperFriendly works with clients to create design systems, the first thing we'll do is an audit of the existing digital landscape.
CSS Feature Toggles
A devtools extension to toggle support of selected CSS features for testing progressive enhancement fallbacks. This extension allows developers to disable support of modern CSS features from devtools.
Help us start a data revolution for government
We're both passionate about how data can improve how government works, and we want to start a data revolution focusing on service delivery and improving human experience. We believe government is hugely underestimating the need to shift how we create, use and share data.
The Amen break is the ultimate design pattern
Back in the late 60s Gregory Sylvester G. C. Coleman, the drummer of Washington DC funk and soul band The Winstons recorded a drum interlude that changed the world.
Learn Vanilla JS
Vanilla JS is a term for coding with native JavaScript features and browser APIs instead of frameworks and libraries. I help people learn JavaScript. If you have a question about something or need JavaScript help, get in touch.
I'm a Web Designer
Something that I am increasingly uncomfortable with is our industry's obsession with job titles.
Constrast Checker
Skip to main content Constrast Checker Text
Making your service more inclusive
There's usually no alternative to using government services so they have to work for everyone. Making your service inclusive means making sure anyone who needs to can use it as easily as possible.
Tobie Langel and I have launched a new site called (spoken as Accessibility Reviews). Today if you want to identify if a tool, platform, service, resource, etc. is accessible you have to ask the broader community for its feedback. This does not scale.
Should we measure if a digital service is a good citizen of the web?
I don't like being annoyed. It is unhelpful.
An alpha alpha approach
Mr Downey spurred a bit of conversation on Twitter about the idea of alpha stages in the GDS delivery cycle.
Blogging Guide
This guide helps 18F employees through the blogging process and assists them in properly framing their post so that it's concise, readable, and achieves its goals. If you have any questions, ask them in #blog or by email to
A guide to agile communication
As a by-product of being fast, agile communication can and does iterate as it goes along. It should be possible for a writer to draft something, discover it contains errors or needs re-writing, and then re-draft it again - all within a few hours.
Designing design
For the last six months, I've been working on developing a design system for the NHS website, and associated digital services. You may think that working on developing is a bit of a pointlessly long phrase, but it's right.
Participant needs - Alpha design hypotheses
This discovery was to help us understand how we might better design our user research.
Designing for the web ought to mean making HTML and CSS
During the dotcom boom back in the late 90s, I did a bunch of Photoshop-cut jobs. You know, where a designer throws a PSD file over the wall to an HTML monkey to slice and dice. It was miserable.
Now that I am Head of User Research and Analysis at GDS, and I have been thinking more about the importance of representation and I what I represent. I also wanted to expand on some of themes I was thinking about in my thoughts on leadership post.
Table Design Patterns On The Web
Tables are a design pattern for displaying large amounts of data in rows and columns, and have not yet seemed to fall out of favor, so let's take a look at how we can create tables on the web in 2019.
We are not our users: we should not tell them how to feel
When we create new products and services it's easy to become emotionally invested in them. We're understandably proud of what we're creating and often attach adjectives like simple, quick or exciting to our descriptions of them.
Talk: Tabular data on the web
This is a rough transcript of a talk I recently gave at a workshop on Linked Open Statistical Data. You can view the slides from the talk here. I'm sharing my notes for the talk here, with a bit of light editing.
On Strategy: The strategy is delivery. Again.
In 2011, early in my current role, I discussed with the Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude, the strategy I recommended we adopt for all things digital. The strategy was to be disarmingly simple: to deliver. Often, iteratively and repetitively.
Two sides of service design
We have different ways to slice and dice what we do, constantly on the lookout for ways to organise and categorise what we do and how we do it. And the caveat on top, of course: that the design process is never linear.
Outcome-based service mapping
At the Department for Work and Pensions in the UK government, I work with many teams who are currently tasked with replacing internal systems and improving the staff experience.
Why user researchers and service designers should be best friends
The Government Digital Service (GDS) has a long history of interaction design and user research working together. But service design is a bit newer to GDS, so we wanted to talk about what service designers do and what works well when we collaborate.
HTML, CSS and our vanishing industry entry points
Everyone is angry about CSS again. I'm not even going to try to summarize the arguments. However it always seems to boil down to the fact that CSS is simultaneously too easy to bother with, yet so hard it needs to be wrapped up in a ball of JavaScript in case it scares the horses.
Researching how we ask users about their ethnicity
Here at the Race Disparity Unit, we produce Ethnicity facts and figures - a service which presents statistics from across government showing the different experiences of people from different ethnic backgrounds.
A reading list for The World-Wide Work.
These days, it's easy to feel overwhelmed. The tech industry is facing a veritable raft of ethical, moral, and political crises. Automation and industrialization are reshaping our world. And sitting in the middle of all that? You and me.
New Year, New Website
Every web designer knows how challenging it is to redesign and maintain your own website. The shoemaker's children often go barefoot, as the clich goes.
Leadership skills when you're in the business of disruption
A couple of weeks ago Rebecca Kemp and I ran a leadership workshop at the Service Design in Government conference. We had a great time doing it we had an engaged and lively bunch of people and some really good conversations. We've written up the main points from the session.
Openness and Longevity
In our incessant rush to move quickly, everything is ephemeral. Technology moves so quickly that today's strong favorite is outdated in a matter of years. We slurp up notifications and are fascinated by the next thing before we even fully understand the current thing.
On Simplicity
In the 1997 movie "Contact", Jodie Foster discovers an alien signal that contains the construction plans for a spaceship. Trying to assemble it, the engineers are surprised to find that the crew capsule is just an empty metal pod.