Just been reading two different Wally Olins books on branding. “Brand New” and “The Brand Handbook”

Think my attitude before was a bit cynical and wrong along the lines of “that is something you do to cattle”. As Mr Olins wrote its more about authenticity and ties in with the way the firm is seen socially. I made me think about some of these ideas and perhaps rethink a little.

Its more than just a logo

Branding should be more than just a logo in fact the ethos of the brand. In a small organisation that may a reflection of the owner. In a larger company it might be the founders think the Cadbury family and their Quaker ethos and then the changes in perception and the uproar caused when they got taken over by Kraft. The brand is reinforced or damaged by how consistently the company acts. If all you do is change the logo from green to red or the name and nothing else changes its pointless.

Behavioural Consistency

If you say it do it, don’t say one thing and do another or claim to be something you aren’t. So Wally cites the example of Ryan Air as being and doing what the say on the tin. They aren’t saying we are the the worlds most luxurious or helpful airline. They are cheap flights if you follow their rules to the letter. If you don’t they will charge you for it. Its consistent and it goes throughout the organisation from the top Michael O’Leary, joking about charging for using the toilet to the abrasive people at the airport. That way even the newspaper reports reinforce their branding.

So perhaps as he sees it its more than using the corporate colors and elements consistently whilst that is important branding can be more of a holistic thing encompassing the organisations attitudes and aims.

Seemed worth reading to me of course I skimmed a little but worthwhile to read the thoughts of someone who did branding for 50 odd years.

Are habits a positive?

Been reading ‘The Power of Habit’ by Charles Duhigg.

Regular habits could perhaps add up to more than their parts – compound habit’s. These compound habits then build up to create strongly positive or strongly negative effects.

Mr Duhigg talks about the habit loop: Routine – Reward – Cue – Routine – Reward – Cue … and how to recognise it and break it.

Its interesting to read about how much of human behaviour is linked to habits or unthinking.
Confirms the idea that if you making it happen for the customer without them thinking must be a winner. Similar to utility companies loving it when you pay by direct debit. Your in a habit of using them and once you start on that path it may take a long time or dramatic change to get you to recognise and reassess. How often have you gone with the flow and just auto continued your car insurance without getting comparative quotes? It was easier but would it be a positive habit to always get comparative quotes.

Ties up with the idea of system one and system two thinking in ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’ by Daniel Kahneman.

Have to think what positive habits I can adopt and how many things are done without thinking or on auto pilot and how to recognise them. Are all those habits positive? Probably have to say no. Thing is to stand back occasionally check the loops your in and see if they are effective. If you keep doing the same things you can’t expect the outcome to be very different each time.

Also could your business create or encourage habits in your customers. Could you be a habit for your customers, even if that does seem slightly sinister. If it was easy to buy widgets on your site and they did it once painlessly they have less reason to look else where. Do they get in a habit of using you without actively considering their choices next time they buy a widget?.

Started me off thinking about some new (to me anyway ideas), which is always good.

Is writing blog posts a positive habit? I’m going to consider that for a while and reassess if spending time writing blog posts is productive. So don’t expect any blog posts for a while.


Been reading ‘Antifragile’ by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, its a pretty entertaining read. He is quite bracing in his writing and doesn’t give any quarter to the group of people he describes as ‘fragilistas’.

Lots of interesting ideas, the kind of book that makes you rethink what your being told when faced with the news. I’m not sure I can summarise a book this long. If I could would he be any kind of writer? Think I’m still absorbing the ideas and trying them out on situations I’m faced with. I’ll just list some of the things in the book that grabbed my attention.

  • Optionality
  • Extremistan
  • Iatrogenics – and the lack of science in medicine
  • Turkeys and Non Turkeys
  • Suckers and Non Suckers
  • Antifragility isn’t == to robustness
  • Retrospectively assigning causes to events.
  • Listen to the greatest or the lowest but nothing in between
  • Informal knowledge can be more valuable than formal knowledge
  • If people are wrong and you can see what is happening you ethically obliged to tell them
  • If they have no skin in the game – what they say should be ignored
  • Neomania – and avoiding blinkered ness

Not sure I’m at the authors level on this stuff but it was an interesting read. Seemed to interest me more than ‘The Black Swan’ which I read a while ago. Left me thinking how I can make me and my work Antifragile.

The Design of Everyday Things

Been reading The Design of Everyday Things by Donald A Norman. Its pretty good and although its reasonably old now it has some good ideas.

“Well-designed objects are are easy to interpret and understand. They contain visible clues to their operation.”

He talks about design as a functional thing and gives examples that everyone can understand everyday objects, doors, car controls etc. He does have a hang-up on telephone systems but the lessons learned are valid.


He talks about mappings a lot. The idea being that controls map/translate to the actions they produce. An example of a intuitive natural mapping he gives is a steering wheel turning the control (wheel) to the right moves the mechanism to the right. When the control doesn’t map well to the action it creates confusion. An example he gives is the forward and backward controls on his cars speakers the action you want is to move the volume from the front speakers to the rear speakers but he cites the control that effects this action moving from left to right. So it actually maps front to left and rear to right which introduces an additional layer of confusion. Although left to right works fine its different from the users conceptual model and a bit arbitrary.


Feedback is also a key subject, giving you plenty of clues that your doing the right or wrong thing when controlling something helps create a greater understanding and aids quicker learning. I was thinking about this and I know I find it confounding when I use really slow computers you click nothing happens you click again and still nothing happens. Eventually the thing you wanted to happen once happens thrice. In the meantime your thoroughly confused about what the state of the thing your changing currently is.

So as much as you can, make system state visible, is the hob on the oven on?. Make it obvious if it is on or off.
He also touches on faith in the controls. Make sure that the feedback is correct, if it isn’t just few times it can lead to that warning light being ignored the one time it is correct and action is needed.

Feedback is a great way to make the invisible parts of the system visible to the user. Which should help them in there understanding.

Errors should be as cost free as possible

When people make errors in controlling it should be reasonably easy to reverse out of them. Good feedback can help users diagnose what has happened and what they could do to resolve/learn. People make guesses at the cause of errors from the info available to them. The job of the feedback and design is to make that map to the real cause. Though clear controls and obvious design you can help make the users mental model of how an object works in the parts they can’t see accurate.

Keep it simple

Overly complex feedback obscures faults and provides a plethora of signals that can be misinterpreted. He gives examples of nuclear power plants and jumbo jets that have so many controls that they can end up being misinterpreted. Simplify or clarify the options, excessive options or and features increase the complexity for the user greatly. People blame themselves for misunderstandings so its important to dig for issues or the designer may never become aware of them.

Constraints Cultural

Conventions and learned behavior, are brought with each user when they come to learn a new tool. This means its often easier to evolve from the systems they already know. If your designing a new phone you could rethink absolutely every element and if everyone else came to your new phone with no knowledge of previous phones that might work but that is not how the world is. You can also use standards even if they seem odd if they are what people are used they can apply that learned knowledge to your new thing.

Constraints Physical

If you design your thing to be only be used in one direction say that is a physical constraint and means the user can cut down the options they might guess at considerably. The pattern of use can be learned more easily.

He goes on to say a lot more about how to memory works, short term memory and long term memory. Rhyming, patterns and stories as ways of remembering learning.
About the structure of memory long term memory and short term memory and what you store in each. Something like 5- 7 items being the limit for short term memory so longer numbers might be an issue.

All in all lots of info and plenty worth reading even if some of the examples are a bit old. At one point he describes the smart phone way before they were available:)

Alan Turing

I like Turing and he was born in 23rd of June 1912 so he would be nearly hundred now. He was an interesting guy so at some point I drew a picture of him not sure why now.

Something not everyone knows about Alan is that he was, in reversal of math geek stereotypes, a distance runner. Running from meetings when he worked outside London after the end of the second world war.

Not going to rerun his life history you can read about that everywhere. You can even search a multicoloured search engine you might of heard of for ‘Turing birthday’ and you get a result.

I especially like the stories about him trying to teach his computer in Manchester to write love letters.
Also the story about him filling in his home guard registration form and his logical response to the tick here to indicate that you understand you are under military discipline. Don’t tick the box how could you gain from it?

turing running

References Books:

Turings papers


  • Bletchley park its pretty neat especially if you a bit of a geek (computers the size of small rooms!) but interesting historically too. I went on bank holiday for William Kates wedding avoided it nearly completely, Result!

Lean Startup and Unicycling

agile developmentWas reading ‘The Lean Startup‘ after John Fagan gave a talk at Norwich Startups group.

It made me think about the similarities between the Lean Startup Process and unicycling. Startups are inherently unstable and usually end in a crash. When your learning to unicycle its the same thing your constantly adjusting and pivoting to adjust to new information that your taking in the whole time. The situation is never stable and even if it appears to be for a while your just one bump away from a tumble.

Generally I think that Eric Ries has some useful ideas although its a bit tech focused. He describes the general ideas in part one how to measure/test in part two and then growing/adapting in part three.

I thought he would run out of ideas after part one and just repeat himself but the rest of the book was useful, part two more than part three. Its a bit self serving, he talks about organisations he works for and is involved with but I guess that means he can provide accurate examples. Its also a bit religious, like this is the only way. I’m sure it isn’t, like all ideas you take the useful bits for you from it. Some of it will seem familiar to you if you’ve read about Lean the Toyota Way, Six Sigma, Deming and all that.

These seemed the most useful ideas to me at the moment

  • Quick feedback – try something, get feedback from customers quickly
  • Cohort metrics – measure a cohort of users so you can compare them with earlier cohorts, to measure effectiveness of changes.
  • Experiments – A/B split tests that you can actually get useful and unambiguous information from.
  • Five Whys – keep asking why until you get to the root cause of the problem.

When you watch unicyclists they always make it look easy, its not, I guess its the same for successful businesses.

Rereading Extreme Programming Explained

extreme programming

I’ve been rereading “Extreme programming explained” by Kent Beck, It is quite interesting to go over ideas. I’m sure you could use the basis of the ideas in many industries. You don’t have to take all the ideas just grab those that will work for you. So anyway this is what I took away from it on this reading.


Do things in the best possible way you can. Doing things at lower quality will only bring you technical debt which eventually drowns you. High quality wins trust and its just the right thing to do. Although it may take longer now the alternative is a future of plugging holes in a leaking bodge built ship.

Short Cycles

Try to keep producing regular improvements incrementally. Big bang ‘look at this finished thing’ never seems to turn out quite how you hoped. Its good for your happiness too as it makes everyone feel like they are making progress. You go home happy, happy bunnies do better work and cope better with the really depressing radio news as they go home.


You can always improve stuff ‘refactor’ it in computer speak. It only needs to do ‘a’ ‘b’ ‘c’ now so only build something that can do ‘a’ ‘b’ ‘c’ now. You can always add the ability to do ‘x’ later.

Your trying to build Minimum Viable Product if you try and guess what the requirements for feature ‘y’ will be along time ahead you will probably be wrong which means rewriting ‘y’ anyway. If you build more you have to be careful your not going off on one, you love these new features but the client couldn’t care less.


Testing Testing Testing and automatically. Testing is dull. Automated testing is less dull. If you have a big set of tests that you can run quickly on a project it can save you time and help you sleep. You don’t want to be lying in bed at night worrying about someones website. It just winds you up. It also helps when you refactor as you can tell that your system is still holding together.

Estimate based on prior experience

Not ideal world estimates, maybe when you do that thing or that similar thing again it will be a lot faster, but probably it won’t. Its probably better to use your last experience of doing this thing to estimate how long it will take to do it now. Hopefully you can refine your estimates so that they become slightly more accurate each time you do them.


The best way is the simplest way, you will be able to understand it in six months and so will anyone else working on the system.


Web design – Don’t Make Me Think

I’ve finally got round to reading “Don’t Make me think” by Steve Krug. Although its now quite old, I was reading the second edition from 2006, I think much of it is still relevant.

Don’t make me think

“I should be able to just get it”, the purpose, how and why of each webpage should be obvious. It should be obvious what is clickable, what’s the navigation what the purpose of the site is and where you are in the site. To someone who has never looked at the website before and isn’t a webling. Anyone who has used a web browser before should be able to work it out.

How we really use the web

Designers think that people carefully look at their pages, they spend ages designing them after all. But people don’t, they just bash on through until they can’t figure it rather like blokes do with instructions. They scan pages just picking out what they need to accomplish their aims.

Billboard Design

So we need to design websites in the same way you think about billboards on a motorway. Something to be skimmed at speed. This is why headings are so important it gives a quick clue where to go in the page and how relatively important things are. So create a clear visual hierarchy and make it really, really obvious. In the same way conventions are great every designer wants to create this new/shiny navigation. To show how smart they are but that’s all rubbish. If thousands of other sites on the web use a similar navigation to your site then nearly all your users are going to just get it. Simples.

Animal Vegetable, or mineral

Make choices obvious don’t assume great knowledge of the subject. As long as your correct your not going to annoy an expert by making it simple.

Omit needless words

Omit needless words most people don’t read them anyway. Steve suggests removing half the words on each page. With the aim of reducing reducing noise, getting more content above the fold and making the aim of the page more obvious.


He goes on to talk about navigation, why homepages go wrong and most interesting for me user testing on small budget. But in the spirit of “omit needless words” I’m stopping here.