The Worst UX of any product I’ve used

I’ve spent much of the last year thinking about how to improve the user experience of a product I have been working on (more on that in future post). 

One of the most important things to consider when crafting a user experience is the context in which the user interacts with the product.

A prime example of why context is so important when designing a product is the electric hob built-in to the counter top of the kitchen in my flat. One of the choices that the manufacturer would have had to make was what form the buttons would take — unfortunately they didn’t take the context in which the hob is used into account and therefore made the wrong choice.

On first look the hob is quite stylish — but let’s be honest, its a hob — and features touch buttons for the power button and heat selection. Whilst the touch buttons are quite attractive, and easy to clean, they fail to register touches most of the time. Not ideal when they manage the heat being applied to boiling pots of water. But why is this?

Touch buttons fall into two broad categories, capacitive and resistive. Resistive touch buttons use the pressure of your finger to register a touch whilst capacitive touch buttons measure the electric field generated by your finger.

The hob manufacturer opted to use capacitive touch buttons for the hob. What they failed to take into account was that capacitive touch buttons register for any conducive material including one which is often found in kitchens — water. This means that the situation in which you want to affect the heat quickest, e.g. when the pot overboils, you cannot! Sometimes you continue to be unable to use the button even after it appears to be dry, it is incredibly sensitive to water.

This means that whilst the product looks fit for purpose and likely works well in a situation in which there are no spillages (for example in the manufacturers R&D facility, or the shop in which it is demonstrated to customers) in real life it causes a lot of unnecessary problems and is a regression from hobs that had physical buttons.

I hope this blog post comes to mind when you are next making decisions around the user experience of a product you are working on and you remember to imagine not just the user using your product, but the context in which they do it and what they are trying to achieve whilst using your product.



A “Social” Experiment

This weekend I was trying to resolve an issue with an accidental purchase one of my relatives made on ViaGoGo. We realised the mistake the same day as the purchase, and I set about trying to get a refund.

Being the somewhat impatient person I can be with matters like this, and knowing that different channels of communication often result in different outcomes, I decided to send ViaGoGo an email and a direct message on Twitter at the same time.

A few hours later I got a response via both email and twitter (strangely enough, they replied by email first). The email I recieved was a pretty bad copy/paste job that started with “Dear mrs , ” Yes, lowercase Mrs. Yes, without my last name. The email told me that tickets were unrefundable and that they considered the case closed.

Meanwhile, on Twitter, I recieved a well written response and the offer of a full refund — which was then processed the same day.

The cynic in me thinks that perhaps companies are more likely to work with you when they know you have a public platform to complain about them on. But perhaps this isn’t the case, perhaps the different responses is just a function of speaking to different people in different roles (Community Manager vs Customer Support) or just people in different moods on that day.

Either way, I always seem to have recieved better customer service when I use a Social Network.



Centre for Computing History

Since September, Charlotte and I have lived about a minutes walk from the UK Computer Museum (which also seems to go by the name Centre for Computing History), but we’d never actually gone inside.

Today after my flying lesson we went to have a quick look. Whilst it made me feel old to see things I remember from childhood in a museum, such as a PlayStation; a Dreamcast and an Acorn PC, I really enjoyed the hour or so we spent there.

There were a few exhibits, including: the history of ARM, military computers and the history of Sinclair. The best thing about the museum was that you were encouraged to touch, and play with, any machine that was turned on. I hadn’t played on a BBC Micro before, but had heard a lot about them from lecturers and other techies from the era they were made. It was fun to figure out the classic GOTO 10 infinite loop, which you can see in the image above I put to good use informing the public of Charlotte’s lameness.

One of the nice things the Museum has is a classroom to get children interested in Computing. Its the kind of thing I know I would have enjoyed as a kid.

A display at the Centre for Computing History
A display at the Centre for Computing History

I recommend anyone who reads this blog to go to the museum if you’re in the Cambridge area, you’d probably enjoy it.



America Roadtrip Summer 2014

I was going to write a blog post about my month travelling around Arizona, Nevada and California with my friend and fellow computer scientist Rob Crocombe, but frankly I don’t think I could improve on what he’s already written. So, if you want to read about all the exciting places I went this summer including:

  • The Grand Canyon
  • Las Vegas
  • Santa Monica Pier
  • Griffiths observatory
  • Disneyland Anaheim
  • The Pacific Highway
  • The Golden Gate Bridge
  • Silicon Valley
  • Alcatraz

and much more, then make sure you click across to Robs blog posts and pictures:

Blog and Pictures of Arizona

Blog and Pictures of Las Vegas

Blog and Pictures of Los Angeles and Southern California

Blog and Pictures of San Francisco

Thanks to rob for such great work on the blog and images, and of course for coming along and having a great time in the USA.


Finished Dryathlon!

So it’s official, I finished the Dryathlon having not had a single drop of alcohol for a month.

Thanks to everyone who donated, together we raised £132.50. The government will add another £25.00 through gift-aid, so Cancer Research UK will get just over £150 (The website used to collect money takes a small cut from the government provided gift-aid)

Lets hope that money helps some advances in our understanding of cancer, and can help some people in the future!


Life University

Goodbye 2013, Hello 2014

2013 was another year that simply flew past.

It’s strange to think that it was almost 3 years ago that I first made the journey from Dunstable to Hull and started my degree in Computer Science.

Last year was an important year, and this one will be even more so — here’s a roundup of what happened, and a plan for what is to come.


What happened in 2013:

  • I passed my second year with an average grade of 85%
  • I had my first experience of commercial development as part of a business over the summer
  • I co-developed QuickSync — a platform for syndicating stock levels between different systems
  • I chose and started developing my Final Year Project, an Integrated Development Environment for PHP
  • I started considering alternative choices for my masters (and hopefully future PhD) and received some offers (more on that later in the year)
  • I had a lot of fun with my awesome friends at uni, and some students who spent a semester here from America.
  • I started arranging and saving for a month-long holiday to America with my housemate Rob (including meeting up with aforementioned Americans!)
  • I did loads of cool events with Microsoft, including going to Campus Party
  • I had blue hair for most of it!


What I expect (and hope!) will happen in the new year:

  • More sensible hair
  • Graduating from The University of Hull with a first class Bachelors of Science Degree in Computer Science
  • The release of my final year project as an open source initiative
  • Lots of preparation for my masters degree, including lots of maths revision and learning Java (it seems like every other university mainly teaches using Java as opposed to C#)
  • Moving from The University of Hull to another university for my Masters Degree
  • An awesome road-trip around Arizona, Nevada and California from Phoenix to San Francisco

I think that will take most of my time!

I hope you all had a great time in 2013 and wish you a fantastic 2014. Thanks to everyone who made 2013 such a special year for me, of whom there are too many to list — you know who you are. 🙂



I’m a Dry Athelete – Support me!

I’ve seen a lot of adverts for Cancer Research UK’s Dryathlon appeal recently and thought it would be a nice thing to do!

The premise is simple, no alcoholic drinks for a month — for me that’s from January 4th – February 4th 2014.

I think that the usual post-exam drink will be missed, but other than that it will be beneficial for both me and Cancer Research UK, which is an excellent charity — the research they do benefits everyone.

If you would like to sponsor my sobriety please click here to donate via JustGiving, alternatively, if you’re in Hull, come find me in person with cash and I’ll get the money on JustGiving for you.

At the moment I have raised 70% of my target of £100, but it would be great to raise even more if possible!

A big thank you to everyone who has already donated. 🙂



Getting my name out there

Last week at Campus Party: Europe I met a whole host of interesting people. Whilst a few of them exchanged contact details with me, or even gave me business cards, most of them I wont hear from again. Which is both sad, and could lead to some lost opportunities.

To try and combat this, and to allow people to get in contact with me more easily after a meeting or event I ordered some Business cards of my own! Today they arrived in the post, and you can see one of them in the picture above!

I intend to carry them around with me most of the time so now, whenever I meet someone interesting, theres no excuse for us to not get in contact 🙂



New Car or New Computer?

My Dad and I spent much of today looking at new  cars. One of the things that struck me was that the main differences between a brand new “13 reg” car, and the same model from 6 years before is that the main differences weren’t automotive, but were instead technological.

In fact the main features of a new car were better Sounds Systems, Connectionless Keys, Digital Handbrakes, Digital Radio and a better SatNav.

I wonder if Henry Ford ever imagined people would upgrade their car, at least partially, based on its computing ability.


Employment Forward Thinker Developments Life Software Engineering University

Summer of Software 2013

So, we’re just over half way through the summer break from university, so I thought it would be a nice time to summarise what I’ve been up to.

I’ve spent much of my time working for a company called Forward Thinker Developments which operates from the Enterprise Centre at the university

Much of the work has been on a system which we call QuickSync which syndicates stock levels and information between electronic point of sale (EPOS) systems and websites for fashion shops, saving businesses up to 4 man hours a day stock checking and updating their systems . As one of the benefits of working on the system from the very beginning, to this version 1 release and onwards into the future, I have a 25% stake in the company. I’ll be posting more information on the service, which already has 35 customers, in the near future.

The Countdown to the Launch of The Hull Box Office
The Countdown to the Launch of The Hull Box Office

On top of my work on QuickSync I’ve also been developing the new Hull Box Office website. At the moment Hull City Council and some of the larger clubs and venues in the city all use separate, and old, systems to sell tickets and update local people on upcoming events. The council itself doesn’t actually have an online presence for selling tickets to its events and still uses an actual kiosk in the city centre to sell tickets, meaning a lot more effort for potential customers. To resolve this the council, along with Welly and Fruit has contracted us to build them, which will be the one stop shop for buying tickets for events in Hull, including club nights like Shinobi at Welly. I will of course update this blog when the site goes live.

I’ve been enjoying doing my commercial work, which I hope will have lots of happy users, but the project I’m most excited about is my final year project.

Since my last blog post I’ve been working on the auto complete algorithms, and am starting to get to a point at which I’m really happen with them. I’m testing the usefulness of the algorithm I have created using the test harness you can see in the image below, in which you enter a search term — in the real IDE this would just be the letters you have typed since the last token — and it delivers back to you a list of the functions you are most likely to want. At the moment it contains a list of all the built in functions of PHP, but ofcourse this will be expanded to contain user-created functions as well in the finished product.

Auto Complete for PHP Function Names
Auto Complete for PHP Function Names

For now I’ll keep quiet on how exactly I do this, but I will be open sourcing the application towards the end of development next year, so you will see then!

I hope everyone’s had a good summer, and I look forward to seeing many of my readers back at University in September! Remember to look out for posts about QuickSync and The Hull Box Office.