Not Evangelism

Monday, May 12, 2014

Nodding (and Waving) at Strangers

There's a pleasant camaraderie in cycling; in the nod or the wave to a like minded stranger, heading in a different direction.

Some friends have a VW camper van, and I delight in the quaintly tribal ritual they enact whenever they see another such vehicle on the road. It's almost masonic in its performance, in their cheerful adherence to the peculiar process, in the ritual.

In short, they wave at other drivers. Yes, there's a particular gesture - a secret handshake, if you like - a configuration of fingers and thumb known only to those in on the secret. But fundamentally it's a wave, a salute, a greeting.

That this seems rare and unusual and exotic is a sad reflection on the daily horrors of driving that we collectively endure. Why shouldn't we wave at other drivers? Why shouldn't we connect with the strangers we pass by every day (more likely to recognise the registration plate than the person behind the wheel)? Rather than the begrudging little raise of the finger that we offer when someone has offered us the right of way (although they have stopped we, after all, deserve it) why shouldn't we raise our entire hand in greeting and welcome and thanks?

A strange, sweet camaraderie, then, that camper van owners enjoy.

Sweeter still is that experienced by cyclists, themselves tribal creatures with their team colours and club jerseys, on the brief and fleeting moments when we pass one another on those twilight roads in the commuting hours.

It's a small gesture, usually - there is no need for an extravagant salute at the cyclist's speed. And it is tailored to the conditions. When the weather is better, the light brighter, the eye contact longer, then a raise of the fingers from the hoods will suffice, particularly from those tucked into an aerodynamic position, when lifting the hand off the aerobars is as welcoming as a kiss.

On the grey days, the cold dark foggy days, then something more is needed; a deeper connection, a more strident acknowledgement of a fellow. On on those days a nod or a even a cheerfully-shouted Morning! is required.

And even that small connection is enough.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Is Pragmatic Environmentalism Still Relevant?

As I reactivate this blog after a couple of years of absence, and return to actively posting (rather than drafting article after article without publishing any), I've been asking myself whether the main topics I chose to cover when I started - almost four years ago - are still relevant to me; whether they're still something I'm passionate about, and also whether I still have some expertise in them.

Cycling was the easiest topic to answer the question. The amount of active cycling I do has decreased in the past couple of years, partly as my son has grown older and required more of my time as a taxi service. At the same time, my job has developed to a level that I have less readily available slack, and the cycle commute has fallen out of favour.

But cycling is still a part of me. I trained for and rode my first ever (and perhaps last ever!) century ride last year; I still use my bike to nip to the shops or to collect a takeaway. I still delight in the feeling of the wind on my wheels.

As for Design Matters - user experience - my change in job role has meant that I'm not as active a practitioner as I used to be. But my eye is still drawn to detail; I still embrace those same philosophies and see good (and bad) design in all kinds of everyday places. It's still close to my heart, and I want it to remain so.

Which brings us, then, to Pragmatic Environmentalism. Is there still space in my life (and this blog) for my homegrown approach to environmentalism? Is it still relevant to me?

It's certainly true that the ethics that led me to environmentalism are still part of me. Yes, I have made more compromises along the way, some of them as a result of being a parent. But I've continued to draw the line too; refused to do what I felt was wrong or inappropriate. I've continued to delight in seasonal food, for instance, and am currently stuffing myself with good old asparagus.

What about that word "pragmatic"? As I reflect now, I realise that I first used it to make environmentalism palatable to people who saw environmentalists as tree huggers with beards and hair shirts, to tone down the dark green. And I think that I also used it as an apology for my dilute brand of environmentalism; a justification, or an excuse for my failings and limits.

But yes, a green life for the 21st Century - pragmatic environmentalism - is still important to me. And this is, I think, my chance to rediscover and re-develop what it means to me, and how relevant it is to my life now. A chance to re-launch and re-boot and, where I can, recycle.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Detail Matters: Bad First Impressions (Poor English)

It's very easy to identify bad detail, even easier to laugh at it. But every now and again it's good to indulge in order to remind ourselves How Not To Do It.

Because first impressions are important. They say: we're a serious, professional organisation, and we deserve your money.

Image containing the words "You're free Solar Pack..."

Or, they say We didn't bother proofing our promotional material. Or - perhaps worse - We have a limited grasp of the English language.

All of that in the first word.

But wait! What's that first FREE item in the Pack? An LED Tourch, you say?

Two spelling mistakes with every flyer. You can imagine that the product will be equally high quality.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Unexpected Delights: Discoveries when Slow Cycling

The old Mandatory Cycle Commute this morning, having left my car at the office last night, brought an unexpected delight.

I've said before that one of the things I love most about cycling is the pace of travel; the opportunity to pass through the world not at a blur, but at a speed that allows me to see it, to enjoy it. Last night, on the ride home, I noticed a strange construction site at the end of the little road that goes over the dual carriageway. It stood out because it's on a bridal path in the middle of nowhere.

Last night, I didn't stop to investigate - it's always better to get home, right? - and that knowledge was still niggling me this morning. That knowledge, and the thought that not every ride is a race, encouraged me to stop this morning and investigate.

It didn't matter that I was already late, and had a busy day ahead of me; what mattered was the thrill of discovery, and of taking the opportunity that cycling affords; to pause for a few minutes and explore.

And what an unexpected delight; the Weymoor Bridge Project, a volunteer-led construction project to restore an ancient bridge. I was rather pleased to have stopped.

And, of course, I arrived at work with a spring in my step and a broader-than-usual grin.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Tempted by a New Saddle

I discovered yesterday that Brooks - legendary saddle makers - now make their flagship B17 Standard saddle in a delightful Apple Green.

Brooks B17 Standard saddle in Apple Green

Given that my singlespeed steed (the excellent Pompino by On-One) is mostly green (right down to the tread on the tyres), I'm now thinking that I need to replace my existing saddle (the super-comfy and delightfully-named Charge Spoon).

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Fun Does Not Mean Comic Sans

I was asked to provide some content for a new website, and in the process of looking at it, I couldn't help but notice the presentation.

The layout, for instance, was too large to fit on my 1280x1024 monitor. A collection of photographs and their associated labels were disjoint. There were typos, text was uppercase, apparently randomly. And the predominant font was comic sans.

Now there is much to be said about comic sans, and a great deal more to be said about the role of font in brand, in the look and feel of a website (or application, or book).

But for me it boils down to a question of the appropriateness of comic sans for the subject. For a comic, for instance, it may well be the most appropriate font. For a warning sign, perhaps not.

In this case, I presume that the use of comic sans is to promote a sense of fun; there are humorous (although possibly in breach of various copyright) images, and the tone is light.

All well and good. But does the use of Comic Sans add to this?

I think not.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Email newsletters: detail matters (even in the subject line)

This morning, I received an email newsletter from a company that has re-designed their website. The subject line invites me to "celebrate our new web site".

The email meets many of my criteria for a good email communication strategy - it's quite clear who the sender is, why I'm receiving the email. And the option to unsubscribe is right where I expect it to be, at the end of the message.

So far, so good.

Unfortunately, the email falls down on a small, but significant detail: there's a spelling mistake in the subject line. They've lost me before I've visited the website, before I've even opened the email.

Detail Matters, Even in the Subject Line

User experience starts before the front page. Yes, compelling content will win out, but you've got to get visitors to your website (or to open your newsletter) before they can discover your content. Any barrier must be removed, anything that stops someone from making that first click. Even a typo - something so apparently small, so easily fixed.

Because every detail matters.

What was the error? The subject line offers "20% of everything".

And I'm pretty sure they don't mean that in the same vein as Harry Brignull does.

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