Getting to know us: Una

23 July 2013

Designs for iPad for Maclean’s

Great design is central to We Are Thought Fox and our process respects the time required to achieve it. Each of us started off working in ‘traditional’ media and in many ways that helped teach us the fundamentals in a way that perhaps learning digitally wouldn’t have.

My design life started about 8 years ago when I graduated from Toronto’s weirdest landmark—Ontario College of Art & Design. Since then I’ve had the chance to design, art direct and illustrate for some of Canada’s most exciting publications and collaborate with some inspiring people.

Here are a few of the wild and wonderful projects I’ve been lucky enough to participate in:

Maclean’s: Canada’s weekly news magazine

I spent many late nights designing and making digital collages in a fast-paced news environment. After paying my dues, I was rewarded with digging through the magazine’s 100+ year history in order to inspire a magazine re-design and launch their revitalized online presence.

Canadian Business: the country’s oldest business publication

I contributed to a complete rebrand of the magazine with the intent to make it vibrant, contemporary and not-just-for-old-white-guys anymore! One particularly funny photo shoot had us corralling dogs in glasses & ties around a boardroom table.

Rogers iPad initiative: breaking new ground

As a design lead on a small team I worked on the strategy for Rogers communications iPad initiative. At the time we were pioneers in the land of tablet magazines so the challenges and rewards were equally great.

Toronto Life, Special Issues

I worked on the launch of this vibrant city magazine’s extended family of publications: Stylebook, Cookbook, Real Estate, City Home, Weddings… This a was a labour of love that almost turned me into a snob, since I was constantly after the best new it-model/taco/cafe. Hectic yet rewarding, photo shoots had me running after an actress through a greenhouse, constructing a wedding cake out of cheese and riding a rickety bike up and down a busy street while a photographer snapped photos for a cover.

Select Illustrations

A range of digital and hand-made collages for Maclean’s, Coach House books, Report on Business and Sex, etc., on topics from literary wars to sex ed.

What’s next?

I’m currently inventing a brand new travel publication for an airport, but I can’t disclose the details. It’s a total dream project for me, since I’ve been enamoured with travel ever since I was a child. My parents even used to take me to the airport just to watch the planes take off.

Companion-centred design

21 July 2013

The CMeebie project establishes a new relationship between the BBC and a child: a companion.

During a great talk by BERG’s Jack Schulze, he summed up how lots of software and connected things are starting to go beyond straightforward responses to interactions with the phrase: “there’s no more U in UI”. Then he showed this video of a quadrocopter juggling a ball:

That video sums up how software and connected things are starting to display qualities such as behaviour, motive and even agency.

That’s what we were exploring in this BBC prototype. But the relationship between the child and the CMeebie needs to be established at the correct level. Taking cues from existing discussions around companion-centred design, we decided the companion needed to be as “smart as a puppy” – far from being too smart to fail, the CMeebie needed to make endearing mistakes in its attempts to learn and improve. This approach reduces the chances of the so-called “uncanny valley” effect whereby users feel uncomfortable with an entity which behaves almost but not exactly like a human being.

Endearing failure is particularly important around the suggestions. The CMeebie is effectively the friendly face of a suggestion engine, gathering information about the child and using this information to serve relevant content to the child. It’s important that the CMeebie can get it wrong and then tries to use that information to improve in the future.

There’s no doubt companion-centred design is becoming a big thing. This experience building a digital companion for children was illuminating and satisfying and we’d love to explore this area further.

The pilot stage of BBC Connected Studio

09 October 2012

CMeebies is an idea that has emerged out of the third BBC Connected Studio around CBeebies, the BBC product for children up to six years old.

I went along to the day-long session at MediaCity UK, Salford and teamed up with some people to pitch an idea. It revolved around creating magic for children using technology, but combining it with nurturing elements to back up and give substance to the magic.

We called it a “CMeebie”. It is a digital CBeebies friend app that goes with you across all four screens and beyond.

Think of your CMeebie as a much-loved toy or invisible friend in the guise of a favourite CBeebies character.  It’s a companion guiding you to the website, finding the stuff you like and showing you new stuff that you might like and it’s a friend that plays with you and sets you challenges via a mobile app.

After making it through the first and second stages of the process, it is now at the pilot stage. You can read more on the BBC website about the first set of pilots.

The team working on CMeebies is made up of people from the BBC Games Grid, Animated YorkshireThought DenWe Are Thought Fox and @LisaAKendrick.

I can’t wait to get started!

BBC Connected Studio — CBeebies Build Studio

03 August 2012

The third BBC Connected Studio was around CBeebies, the BBC product for children up to six years old. I went along to the day-long session at MediaCity UK, Salford and teamed up with people from the BBC, Thought Den, Fettle Animation to pitch an idea. It revolved around creating magic for children using technology, but combining it with nurturing elements to back up and give substance to the magic.

As it turned out our idea wasn’t terribly original with another team pitching something similar, but it was one of ten to make it through to the next stage: the Build Studio, two days of rapid prototyping to develop the idea into a proof of concept.

One of the best things about the event was the unique collaborations going on: the BBC had paired all manner of different companies together to create interesting combinations of technical and creative groups. It was a bold move which added to the frenzied energy and made the event feel even more special.

BBC Connected Studio

We were a large team with various skills and this diversity made it difficult to focus at times. Yet the technical group knuckled down to create some interesting examples of how our idea might work on the web, while the creative group explored the full possibilities of the concept. This involved everything from planning interactions to sketching wireframes to developing user journeys.

The number of people from the BBC – from editorial to UX to technical – on hand to offer advice and feedback was wonderful. People like Jon Howard, Game and Web Development Team Leader, managed to impart enthusiasm, scepticism and knowledge in healthy doses at all the right moments. Thanks to the BBC Connected Studios team for organising it and making everything run smoothly. It was a brilliant few days.

We await the verdict in a few weeks about whether our idea was good enough to make it through to a full pilot.

Ask the tribunal: a different approach to content strategy

23 March 2012

We spent much of 2011 working on a project for the The Special Tribunal for Lebanon. One of the most important parts of our role was to find ways to use digital technology to open up a closed and technologically resistant organisation.

Here’s how we used a different approach to content creation with the STL’s new website and how it succeeded in changing the image of the tribunal.

We are at a unique juncture in the evolution of online content. Audiences and organisations are inter-connected in three ways:

  • Editorial – content on a website which people create and people engage with
  • Algorithmic – content which is served up by machines – search or another way
  • Social – content people are directed to by someone within their networks as well as content they create themselves

These strands developed in different ways and at different speeds, so they tend to be treated separately. Now they demand a coherent approach to make the most of content and the resources used to create it.

The guiding principal of good content is that is must be appropriate.

  • Appropriate for business, users, context.
  • Appropriate in its substance, style, structure, method of delivery

How do we know what is appropriate?

Three strands of content have emerged and their importance and prominence is becoming almost equal.

STL presentation - Editorial

Decisions about what content to produce and where to publish it have never been made in a vacuum.

How to win, hold and reward an audience’s attention and interest has been at the heart of publishing and advertising for many years. It’s been done successfully, but it can be done even better with an integrated approach to editorial, social and algorithmic strands.

STL presentation - Social

Julian Assange called Facebook:

the most appalling spying machine that has ever been invented.

It’s a pretty accurate description. Networks provide raw data about audience’s reactions and responses to content. We no longer have to reply on intuition or guesswork.

As well as using this information to direct the creation of new content, we can harness the power of these networks for conversation.

So much online medium is an oral culture. Posts on Twitter, text messages, they are written, but they are really speech. They are what Walter Ong described as “secondary orality”. As Mandy Brown points out, to only use terms like publishing or see the web as a library ignores a large part of it.

We can use these networks to hone our content to the needs of our audiences, but we also need new patterns and approaches to treat secondary orality appropriately.

STL presentation - Algorithmic

The fundamental of ranking in search engines is to write appropriate content, structured it correct and use links – to and from.

In other words, a large part of successful SEO is a content proposition. It is best done from the beginning not tacked on to the end.

There’s more to algorithmic than search engines. Algorithms are determining so many things: financial services, what we watch, who we are matched with, who gets arrested.

We are creating a world that’s covered with eyes connected and accessed by algorithms. Machines are making more and more decisions about content. It will be a strange, even magical place.

STL presentation - A combined approach to content

Why does this matter?

As these elements emerged, it made sense to deal with them separately. This approach was certainly more manageable.

Copywriters, social media experts, SEO consultants.

Now it makes sense to have a unified approach. Why?

These elements are an ecosystem – they are dependent on each other much like the different flora in a garden. If they are treated separately much is lost. If it is treated together much is gained.

How can we do this?

The content process:

STL presentation - Assess - Plan - Create - Reassess

This is an ongoing process which must not be applied to editorial, algorithmic, social strands independently or uniquely.

In fact there are many relationships between these strands. Many of them are feedback loops which enable us to make the most appropriate content.

Here is an example of how to use this approach from my work at the tribunal.

STL presentation

Ask the Tribunal at the STL

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon is an international tribunal set up by the United Nations to try the people responsible for an attack of 14 February 2005, which killed the Lebanese Prime Minister and 22 other people.

The tribunal was out of touch and lacking in credibility with many people in Lebanon. I lead the project for its new website. The existing website was dead and lifeless. It needed to be more organic and evolving.

We created a section called Ask the tribunal.

It is an opportunity for people to put forward questions to the tribunal about any aspect of its work. If the subject falls within the STL’s remit and has not already been covered elsewhere, the question and the response will be published on the website.

It’s a section on the website and a big button throughout the website.

It was immediately successful. There were scores of questions in the first weeks about the gamut of the tribunal’s work.

But once the STL’s Twitter account was launched it really took off.

  • Twitter offers enormous opportunities to interact directly with anyone interested in the work of the tribunal as well as the potential to reach exponentially high numbers of users who might not even be aware that the tribunal is doing anything.
  • It allowed the tribunal to bypass the traditional sources of media.
  • It also aligned the tribunal closer to the younger generation, which has been using social media as a crucial tool of the Arab Spring.

We gained more than 2,000 followers within the first weeks, but this success is not simply success within the social strand. Why?

STL presentation — Ask the tribunal

Ask the tribunal is an integrated approach

  • Answer questions asked by people on Twitter using @STLebanon. Publish the questions and answers in the relevant Ask the tribunal article to create an ongoing conversation on the tribunal’s website.
  • Organise online debates with important figures in the tribunal. These debates are archived on the tribunal’s website using a tool called Storify. Creates events with immediacy and excitement as well as lasting legacy on the website.

A very successful approach to content

  • Helps the tribunal to discover more about what matters most to its audiences.
  • Along with analytics, helps to guide the tribunal’s decisions about content development in the future. New content guided by what users want to know.
  • Way it is framed makes connections with different groups, not just ones allied to the tribunal.
  • Good for SEO because content is about what people are looking for. Part of an ongoing online conversation – more links.
  • Hezbollah praised the new website. Lebanese newspapers started writing stories about the STL’s Twitter account.

Combine this approach with other subtle content elements:

  • Feedback in the form of data about the section – highest rated, most viewed, questions asked and answered in the week.
  • Report an error
  • Article history
  • How to cite an article
  • Creative Commons license

Encourage transparency, trust, sharing and authenticity.

This approach combines editorial, algorithmic and social – symbiotic relationships. An organic, living, evolving entity.

The tribunal has starting doing live Twitter sessions with prominent members of the tribunal. For example, in January, the STL Head of the Defence Office answered questions live on Twitter. The questions and answers are then archived using Storify. It’s been a successful approach, which has helped the tribunal to bypass traditional sources of media and establish and maintain direct interactions with the public.

Let’s embrace the challenge of the next ten years in the online medium. Let’s make it feel like a person not a machine at the other end of the connection. Let’s enhance rather than limit the individual. These approaches to content are a vital part of this evolution.

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