So you’re about to graduate

(This is a follow-up to my blogpost as I’ve been invited to give one of the keynotes at the Umea Institute of Design’s Degree Show  in Sweden next month.)

So you’re about to graduate from an interaction design degree. Welcome to the rest of your life in the industry of design. Here are some harsh realities you’ll have to face:

  1. Noone has used ‘interaction design’ in about 10 years. Don’t look for interaction design as a job description on job search sites. Noone uses it. Just like information architecture has become ‘UX/UI’ and user-centered design has become ‘UX/UI/CX/service design’. Noone has ever used HCI or physical computing either. The terminology of your academic life doesn’t apply to the rest of your life.

This is a fairly normal byproduct of academia being its own industry. People make a living from using those terms to apply to doctoral positions, post-docs, heads of departments, etc.

So you’re going to be applying for ‘product design’ positions where the word product usually means digital product. The halcyon days of a variety of sizes of companies recruiting multi-disciplinary graduates to work on hardware/software products are mostly over. Why? Because the product/engineering design sector is now servicing the smallest startup to develop a connected product so they don’t have the internal knowledge to train you up across electronics engineering, supply chain management, marketing etc. They don’t have much funding so they need you to already bring deep knowledge to the table which, sadly, your education won’t have provided you (if you’re graduating from an interaction design course).

If you’re pretty good at CAD or coding you might find something sooner than your peers who aren’t. Why? Because ‘hard skills’ are valued more by startups and small companies than the ‘soft skills’ that agencies might value. But it does mean you’ll start your career with mindless technical work. That’s ok, it’s better to start somewhere and build from that, than not to start at all and retrain (many of my B.A. peers did).

The good news if you’re not particularly technical is that the world of design agencies is perfect for you. It has changed and shrunk so you’ll be mostly applying to dull 20-30 year old companies like IDEO, Smart, Frog, Fjord (EY) Seren (EY), Method, Native and the ‘big 4‘ which are the large accounting consulting firms who now offer design services.  These businesses have internship programs and will have structures in place to let you grow within a team, drowning in a flurry of post-its and powerpoint presentations. This may also be a disappointment, but hey, it’ll pay the bills for a few months.

2. You’ll have to work for nothing sometimes The fact is that the most interesting interaction design work is now firmly in the arts. You’ll find endless opportunities to work with artists building fantastic AR/VR/wearable/whatever  with absolutely no budget. This can be a good side hustle to an agency position. You’ll have the power to learn across multiple sectors but no money so you’ll be inspired to do this for the right project or because there’s a technology stack you want to learn about.

3. You may have to keep studying Yes there are plenty of large consumer smart product companies out there but they’ve mostly been absorbed by even larger groups (Google, Philips, Microsoft). Those companies have super interesting research going on but your BA or Master’s might not be enough. Any PhD will open all sorts of strange doors, especially in interaction design work. You also might want to try applying to MIT for eg. which will open further doors when you graduate no matter what you want to do. You’ll find a PhD gets people in Google Creative Lab, Microsoft Research and others very interested. You don’t have to go into a PhD straight away of course, but some topics (ethics in #iot for eg.) are not industries yet. Some topics in interaction design are firmly, still, academic in nature or worse, policy/government-based. A PhD can get you to keep exploring, perhaps do a practice-based PhD if you hate writing, and engage with corporates in very different ways than with your M.A. begging bowl.

4. You’ll definitely have to write, sell yourself on social and generally become entrepreneurial. I know social media doesn’t exactly inspire many young people, but how do you compete with someone who has 10 years of career under their belt? You show your work (dedicated URL so I can find you with search engines), you share your ideas about your work (start blogging on your own site and cross-post to Medium and Linkedin), you share what you value, what you think is interesting, what your opinions are (try twitter with plenty of muted words).

You should try giving talks as soon as possible (I gave my first conference talk 6 months after graduating) perhaps at your local chapter of PechaKucha or TEDx. Try organising a meetup around the design issues you value. Do every bloody thing you can to avoid being another CV someone won’t read (especially if the robots are reading it first).

Start your own business, take small clients who are friends of your family, start wherever you can if you feel like the options above are unpalatable. But keep in mind this is the hardest path. It’s the one with the most psychological ups and downs and rewarding in lots of ways, but incredibly seasonal. But it’ll be different from what most of your peers end up doing. I’ve made a career almost entirely this way.

5. Keep your interests diverse This all sounds quite stressful I realise. Work in design is like work in most industries. It’s full of sexism, ageism, politics, ego, and the odd toxic workplace. What helps is family, friends, sports and hobbies. They will act, collectively, as a safety net against the tides of your work life and make your a more rounded, sane professional. Also, always have enough money in the bank to afford to quit your current job/client and survive for 3 months. That’ll give you lots of inner power.

Good luck and if you have questions, ping me on twitter!

Intelligent for what?

Apologies to Drake for inelegantly stealing his line but I’m in Canada this week, speaking at the iX Symposium at the Société des Arts Technologiques and I’ve become very interested in the concepts of artificial intelligence and how mainstream the expression has become. The world of the internet of things in which I mostly operate  has been shoved aside by pundits and the press in favour of the ‘flavour of the year’AR/VR/AI/cryptocurrency. In this new wave of techno babble, some trends are clear:

  • Wilful ignorance of the experiential and hardware limitations. How many headsets can you ship, how much do they cost, when are you using them and for who? seem to be questions no one seems to be interested in.
  •  Misunderstanding of simple computing principles. Most people use ‘AI’ when they just mean ‘computers’ or ‘maths’. More on that below.
  • Misunderstanding of the hardware realities of computing principles. No, no and for the last time, no, you can’t put (X) on the blockchain, especially if there’s a hardware component to (X) which implies a supply chain, which implies people. Just forget it. You can’t track a fruit from birth and you don’t want to track child exploitation in the fashion world. So there.

I’m rereading The Golden Notebook and was struck by a line early on:

‘What’s wrong with living emotionally from hand-to-mouth in a world that’s changing at fast as it is?’.

Doris Lessing wrote this in 1962 but it could have been written in 2018. In our recurring feeling of being ‘in a frenzy’ all the time, we’ve, in fact, made little progress in utilising new technologies for socially useful purposes.

I posit that Artificial Intelligence could easily be described as:

Great work everyone. If computing power isn’t there to help us become better societies, then why exactly are we using it? Where are we going? What are we not designing instead? What are we avoiding because it’s supposedly ‘too complicated’. A lack of ambition shouldn’t be confused with a lack of technical capabilities. But if we’re not ambitious about what we want from our computers, we have to ask ourselves who we’re protecting by that cowardice. The rich? The powerful? The establishment?

These are some of the topics I hope we’ll talk about this week, because I really had had enough of us talking about AI without pointing out what exactly it is, and crucially, what it isn’t.

Caring about watches again



So Apple is making a smart watch (let’s call it what it is, “wearable” is too clunky and best used for non-screen connected products). It’ll do well enough with early adopters whenever they launch it and regardless of battery life but more importantly it’ll test one important assumption: is the ability to pay with a watch going to get people to wear them again? Fitness and sharing your presence have failed to get the market excited because they are short-term interactions. People go on diets for weeks or exercise for a few months. Paying for things is an everyday recurring action. Maybe Watch will be the payment card killer? If they come to the UK, paying for the Underground with a watch would beat card clash but readers are all on the left, so not an obvious gesture. Maybe that’ll pave the way for NFC Apple Rings.  Oh the possibilities.

Insurance in the internet of things: the Future Stigma of Data


In May, Ana Bradley joined my consultancy as a Partner and one of the first clients we worked on together was Imago TechMedia. We helped them plan an event for the insurance sector around the internet of things in a half day workshop. The insurance sector is one I’d recently been looking at anyway for a piece of strategy work I’m doing with the BBC R&D North Lab in MediaCityUK. In light of Cory’s post tonight  though I thought I’d share some quick thoughts on the matter.

For the past 4 years, insurance companies have been using connected hardware to offer flexible and dynamically generated premiums in the car industry.

  • In 2010, MyKey was a feature on all new Ford cars which allowed parents to lend their car to their teenager and set parameters of usage.
  • In Germany, all new cars have “black boxes” by default since a government ruling supported this in 2012.
  • These days, companies like Ingenie set up the box on any car for the young driver (17-25 year olds) in your household and charge you premiums according to their driving behaviour

Now they are looking beyond cars and into the world of healthcare insurance (after all they’d been tracking your gym attendance) and what better consumer products to exploit than the emerging bubble of wearables?

This sounds good in principle: if you’re good, and you exercise you premium will be low. But what if you’re bad for just one week because you got dumped by a significant other? You spend less time in the gym and so are automatically penalised, even if you’re doing ok overall.

What if you’re really ill? Then the insurance company might offer you a plethora of connected devices, all in the name of making you pay less while they (via the product company) collect more and more data. If we’ve got issues with the NHS holding our data, well I’m not sure we’d trust insurance providers, after all private companies who own the devices can do whatever they like with the data. Remember that back in 2011, TomTom sold its satnav data to the Dutch police who then used it to set speeding traps and retro-actively send speeding tickets. 

So people start to panic and say “No I don’t want to be traced”. So they are charged more.

And this is where a new divide occurs: a new class system determined by data. The poor are tracked and traced while the rich can afford to pay more for their premiums and for anonymity by extension. This also means wearable companies will be tainted by that industry and will come to mean “i’m too poor to pay or ill for expensive insurance so I wear a connected device”.

Might sound a little Adam Curtis, but that future is what worries me about insurance companies.

Change in times of change

I was reminded of this video which, shot in 2000, is strangely prescient of the times we live in now. The beauty of Hussein Chalayan‘s work never ends it must be said but I have a soft spot for this collection.

“Chalayan’s Afterwords Collection was inspired by the story of refugees, having to leave home in times of trouble. The transformation of furniture into dresses, carrying cases, and a skirt suggests the necessity of leaving one’s home in a hurry with nothing but the clothes on one’s back. ”

I wish more product designers and hackers dabbled with fashion in an intelligent way, rather than interpreting the idea of future clothing as touch screen gloves.

Thanks Used Magazine.

Tiny Useful Things: KeyMaps

I’ve been thinking about embodied contexts for maps lately, beyond flat paper maps.

I have 3 sets of keys that I carry around and I thought that a simple way of differentiating them would be to design location-relevant key rings. There’s such a familiarity with specific locations like the office, home, your partner’s home, that labels aren’t necessary anymore.

KeyMaps are key rings with a very focused zoomed-in map of where that key goes. The hole in the keyring is the place those keys are connected to. Around them, the area. Something that only the owner could make sense of. Granular, but not too granular.

I think they might be nice made out of wood and generated easily online somewhere.

That’s it. Happy Easter!

Tiles: Twitter as visual dictionary


(Warning: Firmly in the “things I don’t know how to build and can’t be bothered to learn how to” category.)

I grew up flicking through the Dictionnaire Visuel on my mother’s bookshelf right next to that year’s Larousse Universel. It shaped my knowledge of words and the world beyond my bedroom in the 13ème. I grew to love writing and words, even if I still struggle with english sentence structure. When Twitter launched naming convention led to lots of people hogging famous people’s names and company names as a quick way to make money. I was interested in more common words, words that don’t matter. Seeing what people had done with them, seeing who owned them.

I took a classic William Blake poem and looked up all the words and dates as twitter users. Only “bed” was an account that had been suspended (the word “they” linked to a stupidly large image so I took that out too). I pasted the acount’s avatar next to the word. The result is interesting to me, as you could easily create a language around it, and the fact that anyone would bother registering dates as usernames is interesting. Not very many of these accounts were popular. Many came from asia. Most only had ever tweeted once. Ghost accounts for the modern dictionary. Dunno, it entertained me for a few hours as I avoid prepping for Robotlift.

Final thing here.

Tiny Useful Things: MyTravelMaps


Hackday today at RIG with James and Phil and I thought I’d share what I came up with.

I’ve been using Google MyMaps for about 4 years now, mapping out the cities I visit and live in with pins that often relate to food and culture. I share them a lot and most of them have been viewed by thousands of people. They do however feel like the lonely Google project noone cares about. I think there is so much they could do with it if anyone cared about the implications of those maps during a travel experience. They have the data, it’s only a question of layout and a little intelligence. So I thought I’d try designing what clicking “print” should give you.

I made a prototype last friday for a weekend trip to Paris which gave me some insights but made a cleaner version today. Pics of that on Flickr.

MyTravelMaps is the size of a Moleskine so it’s compact and you can fold it in half to fit into your pocket. Design for pockets is important as Russell said.

The first page has your travel details and the name of your hotel. Nothing else. You don’t need anything else if you’re a seasoned traveller anyway.


The other pages have the description of the pins on one side of the page, tagged according to categories (food in yellow and culture in blue) and listed from North to South to match the map, so as you travel around you kind of know what you’re likely to bump into. It also allows you to make decisions about where you’re likely to end up looking for a place to eat versus visiting museums as those areas don’t often overlap (or shouldn’t if you’re on a budget).



This isn’t about accuracy because travel is about the things you didn’t know about, the stuff people will tell you, the hand-written notes on those maps, the unplanned. It’s building in a little less accuracy than a directions map. It’s building in fun. This is also designed for the wanderings of walking around a city, not for someone who is looking for something specifically. They’ll use their phone for that. I used 3 pieces of paper all weekend, never once taking out a phone to check where we were. That’s kindof what I’d like this to be. Small, smart and useful.

Tiny Useful Things: Radio Cards


I did a bit of Olympics-related media thinking for a client last month and it dawned on me that the most interesting thing about that 2 weeks will be the social and cultural gap that athletes and their entourage will have to deal with, not to mention the millions of tourists. How do you make the whole experience of living in England for a short amount of time less troubling. Often, when you visit a place for a short while, you accept the cultural differences, but some of these people will be here for months, training before the events. Linguistics is not that much of a challenge and something like Point it will do a basic job. But how do you explain simple everyday things like: what should I listen to in the morning?

Radio Cards are a little set of cards attached to the aerial of a radio to remind you of the major UK radio stations.

Just a friendly tiny useful thing. It took me about 2 years before I started listening to Radio 4 and I sometimes switch to a classical channel (not sure which) when I can’t fall asleep. I had to look up the other stations for this. Radio is a funny old thing, a thing of habit. To an English person, this will make no sense because it is assumed you know these things, but from a foreigner’s perspective, every little helps.

More pics here.