CodeTheCity – Environment

We just published the first version of the ideation toolkit that we use at Codethecity. It’s a work in progress, but we’d love some feedback.

The toolkit combines a worksheet with a number of cards featuring open datasets, service providers and service user personas. The deck is used in a quick game to help teams quickly understand what we do at a codethecity.

The free, open downloads and fuller information is available on the codethecity site.

ideation toolkit

Bruce came up with the first draft, I spent some time in Adobe Illustrator, and we printed with the lovely folk at Print ready files are available in the repo if you’d like your own deck.

toolkit in use

Northern Lights 2014

This is the second Northern Lights that I’ve co-organised with Bruce, and the fourth event overall.


One of the things I love about this conference is the way we shape it to encourage people to talk to each other. This isn’t just ‘listen to the expert on stage’ territory. This is ‘find people who share your interests’ territory.

Open Space

Nearly half of the day is reserved for ‘open space’. During open space we have four breakout rooms set up for short talks / discussions / panels proposed by attendees.

This was so popular this year that we had to find two extra rooms. The sessions were:

  • Wearable Technology – Try it on
  • What would you do with all the data?
  • Open data about organisations – create once / Use many model?
  • Block chain tech
  • When to reinvent the wheel
  • Government websites
  • What do students want from internships?
  • 3rd sector communication mechanisms
  • Get rich
  • Hacker spaces in Africa
  • Open mapping / open street map
  • Space radios
  • What should we teach first year computing students?
  • Retelling classic Scottish stories through tech
  • Horizon 2020

The wearable tech session involved the opportunity to try on Occulus Rift and Google Glass thanks to one of our sponsors – IFB – so we inevitably ended up repeating that session throughout the afternoon.

Open space makes it much easier for people to start talking to each other. It’s often the conversations that provide the most valuable takeaways from a conference, but it’s too easy to simply turn up, sit through the talks, and keep yourself to yourself.

By reducing the 100 or so people around you to a dozen or twenty on a side track, it’s much easier to introduce yourself, find common ground, and start sharing ideas.

I wish every conference had some open space. It’s easy, you just need some post-its.


Codethecity 2

I won’t attempt to cover everything that happened at codethecity 2 here. It’s well documented on the tumblr and on the main codethecity website. The github page has all the code, and the repo README files do a great job of giving you a quick overview of each project.

I do have something to add though.

Accessibility matters. We all know that. Not enough of us keep that front and centre during our day jobs. Many of us see it as a chore. An after thought. Something to be ‘dealt with’.

remoting into codethecity

One of the projects this weekend was getting on fine. It was a project to make it easier for people to find appropriate sports and exercise activities called fitlike.

They had a nice concept, some insights into how people need to find activities using useful (rather than easy to implement) categorisation, a plan around data and API usage, they had the beginnings of a UI, and they had put a demo together of how the look and feel could pull things together.

The designer on their team was looking a little less engaged with the challenge towards the end of the Saturday so I had a word. He felt he’d kicked the ball about as far as he could. The rest of the team needed to catch up. The design largely solved the problems they had. That challenge was over – now it was all about implementation.

We had a chat about accessibility.

About the challenge faced by people with limited motor skills. The challenges faced by people with brain damage, or learning difficulties, or visual impairment. We had a chat about the simple things we can do to make the UI more accessible for these groups.

We had a chat about how this can impact their quality of life. How this had potential to directly make their day better. How using a larger button, with an icon, and a distinct colour could potentially make their day better.

I’ve had designers react to this with a shrug, and a complaint that it’ll be impossible to make it also look pretty. They start working on an alternative UI for ‘them’.

This weekend the reaction was all about the excitement of realising that possibility. The challenge of making someones day a bit better through design. The challenge of making the whole experience suited to ‘everyone’ rather than making concessions to ‘them’.

Within a couple of hours on a Saturday night the project had taken a huge leap towards that goal.

fitlike ui example

We had icons that made things more visual than drop downs. We had transport considerations front and centre. We had accessibility options on an equal footing with other options, and presented in the same way – not as an apologetic bolt on.

There is work to be done, but there is a clear vision, a clear desire to achieve it, and the team are embracing the challenge.

Exciting. I can’t wait for the next Codethecity.

Hacking in class

Last week I spent a couple of days out of the office helping tech the new Masters in Digital Marketing at RGU.

We ran a two day agency simulation. Complete with written client briefs, client interviews (real clients), ideas sessions, research, concept testing, and repeated prototype cycles.

Our room overlooked the main entrance hall in the Business School – opposite the coffee and sandwich bars – it was amusing to see people pointing up at our windows as they got progressively covered in post its and prototypes.

More doing. Less talking.


You can find out more about the course on the RGU Website.

Social media for students

I gave a short presentation about how the real world views social media to visual comms students at North East Scotland College a couple of weeks ago. Most of the students are looking to build a career in the ‘creative industries’, with between one and three years of study ahead of them before they enter the workforce.

The thing that surprised me the most was how few of them had a linkedin profile. I think three hands went up in a room of about 80. Things were better for twitter, but not much.

CV only showing twitter handle

Here are the main points I made to the students to help them get that summer internship / placement / first job by making a better impression when a potential employer does the inevitable ‘social media due diligence’ search for them.


  • Get a linkedIn and fill that thing out – make yourself findable
  • Call yourself a designer, developer, artist… whatever you want to be. I’d rather read “Designer, currently studying X at Y” than just the name of your course, or worse, “Supervisor at Funbar McGinties” with no mention of your studies / aspirations
  • Connect with everyone on your course, some of them will get jobs at great places that you want an introduction to, they can be your bedrock network for a long time to come.
  • Connect with people you meet through your course – like people that come in to give short presentations to class, your tutors, people you know on different courses.
  • Post and comment around your design interests, have an opinion, and be happy to share it.


  • Don’t have a ‘jane-person’ and a ‘jane-designer’ account – just have ‘jane’. You’ll be more likely to keep it up, and more likely to come across as a rounded human.
  • Minimise the drunken rambling.
  • Limit your selfies, football commentary, X-factor blow by blow. Don’t swamp out everything else.
  • Talk about design, even if you don’t have anything ‘genius’ to say. Posting ‘wow I just discovered the Braun guy’ is fine.
  • Share new things you find.
  • Talk with people – not at them – it helps you to verbalise your thoughts.

All of this makes me happy when I see a CV coming into the office. It shows me that the person cares about what they do. Even if they aren’t making too much sense, they are engaged with the subject.

When I ask why people haven’t followed some of these the most common answer is a combination of not wanting to put themselves out there, fearing criticism, and a perfectionist instinct that they should only show their most awesome work/ thoughts/ links.

Fight that! Put things out there. If your intentions are good, then good people overlook mistakes. Haters gonna hate, forget the haters.


If some of this sounds cynical it’s because it probably is.

Some people will rail against the ‘connect with the world’ strategy on LinkedIn. But this is a competitive industry, where your connections through friends and family can be more important than hard work and talent in securing young people their first gig.

If I can arm some folk with tactics to beat that system I’ll be delighted – even if it does involve sidestepping some linkedIn ettiquette.

Refresh Reboot 2

Refresh Aberdeen is something I’ve been playing with for some time now. It’s changed along the way a few times, and recently it’s been pretty low key – with my energy mainly going into projects like codethecity.

Over the weekend I put some thought into exactly what Refresh Aberdeen is. I still think it’s potentially useful, if only to make it easy to point people at the various events I’m involved with. When I broadened that thought out, applying some of the thinking I’d encouraged folk at codethecity to use, it struck me that it shoudn’t just be my events that it points to.

So over the weekend I spent a while gathering some links and put together a new version of the site. A really simple quick link site giving very brief overviews of events and things that I think fit the Refresh outlook on life. There is a lot more on now than when Refresh started, which is great.

Participants in the 2013 Aberdeen Jam

If I’ve missed anything please let me know – I’d like this to become reasonably comprehensive. There’s a feed and a light version already, but I plan to make it easier for people to grab the data, and also to incorporate feeds from things like the excellent open tech calendar as time allows.

And if you hate any of the images I’ve used feel free to send me replacements!

Scuffed Constraints Hack Pack Giveaway

This time last year I was refreshing the Constraints Cards kickstarter every 30 seconds or so to see how many new backers I’d got. Since then I’ve shipped a mountain of cards around the world, which has been a great learning experience. Who knew labels were so complicated!

I’ve got a big box of slightly scuffed decks. It’s full of decks where the shrinkwrap is torn, or where there is a bashed corner to the box. It’s under my desk. I keep kicking it. It’s annoying. All the cards are perfect – but I can’t really sell them. So I’d like to give them away.

Constraints Hack Packs

If you have a web user group, meetup, class, or some other group that would like to organise a hack day / evening using Constraints I’d like to send you a skuffed up hack pack for free.

Just tell me about your group, and when you’d like to organise a constraints session and I’ll ship a couple of kilos of decks, stickers, badges, logbooks and general Constraints goodies – about £100 of stuff normally. Everything you need to run a constraints hack for a decent sized room of people. The decks will be the scuffed / bashed boxes but the cards themselves will be spotless.

I have a few hackpacks to giveaway – first come first served!

Postage costs are a killer for overseas, so I’m afraid this is a UK only offer.

Just email me details of your meetup / user group / class and I’ll fire them out on a first come first served basis.

And in case you’re worried that the decks are a mess – this is pretty much the typical damage – not much, but enough that I’d feel bad shipping them as new.

bashed up decks