Minimum Viable Pundit - Design + Banter 11

‘Like a weird design acid trip’

It’s been nearly a year since Gearóid and Sam put together the first Design + Banter, and as Gearóid remarks to the assembled 150 before him, with genuine surprise in his voice, “People keep coming!”

Nat Buckley (NTLK) - What Hannibal Lecter films can teach us about UI design

Nat explains that there are three important lessons about creating great user interfaces that we can learn from the Hannibal Lecter films (and in particular Jonathan Demme’s Silence of the Lambs).

Lesson one

In Silence of the lambs we are introduced to Clarice Starling, an FBI student still in training, who is tasked with a “super terrifying, super intimidating mission” to visit one Dr Hannibal Lecter - a dangerous serial killer - in his dungeon-like prison. On her way to Lecter, Clarice has to pass another dangerous criminal named Miggs who whispers and “throws something horrible at her”.

Clarice has been tasked with extracting valuable information from Lecter, but he’s trying to play with her, to put her on the back foot. He asks her,

“What did Miggs say to you? He hissed at you. What did he say?”

Lesson two

Clarice is impatient with Lecter, he has valuable information that could save a girl’s life. But Lecter isn’t interested in that, and shuts her down, saying:

Lesson three

Nat noticed the phenomenon that the trilogy of films about Hannibal Lecter become less frightening and more, well, shitty, from one film to the next. Nat hypothesised that maybe this is because Hannibal has more and more screen time, and built a Python script that would record how much time Hannibal spent on screen from one film to the next, and compared it to how good the film is.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite hold. Lecter spends less time on screen in Red Dragon, but that doesn’t prevent the film from being drivel. Nat realised that in Silence of the Lambs the graphic horribleness committed by Lecter is implied, rather than being made explicit on screen, as it is in the sequels.

When quizzed after the talk about which companies get this level of personality right, Nat suggests Mailchimp; they know when to play up on this personality with the cute monkey. However when things go wrong, or they need to communicate  something serious, they are more matter-of-fact. nat also cites Buffer as doing well at dropping the façade when something’s up: they aren’t scared to be honest and explicit about what’s happened.

Anna Dahlström - Designing around storytelling

Anna explains that when growing up in Sweden her dad used to tell a lot of stories, both famous fairy tales from the Brothers Grimm and Moomin and so on, but also stories he had composed himself. 

“We travelled through those stories.”

Anna quotes Jonathan Gottchall in suggesting as humans we’re a species addicted to stories. 

We need them to engage people who might use our products in order to sell to them. Stories are incredibly powerful because they have the ability to change the ways we think about things. As humans it’s scary how much the way information is presented can change our perception of it. Dry, unemotional texts make us sceptical of the information imparted within, while a bit of context added means we  engage on an emotional level.

So, what is a good story?

Anna asked her dad for the 3 principles around good storytelling. They are:

#1 Capture the imagination. 

Users need to be able to relate, so we need to understand who they are. As Anna puts it, “Who are we designing for?”

#2 The dynamic of the story

“What are the events and people that tie it all together?” This is the ever important red thread that runs through the journey that you should be thinking back on.

#3 An element of surprise

Think about the causal relationships, and the thread that pulls them through, but remember that surprise is important. They don’t need every detail, there should be an element of excitement, to keep the attention of the user through their journey.

Simon Whybray - 3 things no one asked me to do

Simon took us on a surreal journey about the nature of perception in the internet age, and how we can play on the increasing strained relationship we now have with the truth.

He began by talking about “someone else’s baby”. One of his favourite pieces of design is The CND symbol, designed by Gerald Holtom in 1958, which has become a nearly universal peace symbol used all over the world. 

What’s really interesting about the logo is that no one asked Gerald to design it. He combined two semaphore symbols for the letters N and D in an iconic piece of minimalist design. According to Wikipedia (and you’ll understand why I cite the source of this claim a little later):

“That’s my favourite thing about that logo - no one asked for it. He brought it to a meeting, unsolicited.”

Simon suggests that as designers we are uniquely placed to change things around us that we don’t like. If we see something broken we have the skills to fix it. All you need is wifi and an attitude. So here’s 3 things no one asked Whybray to do:

#1 - Snapchat merch

Simon loves Snapchat, but unfortunately they don’t do any merchandise. Luckily Simon was at hand to design a t-shirt for them. He emailed them the design but go no response. :(

But the story doesn’t end there: He posted it up on Tumblr and the response was hugely positive. (Important: Simon is very popular on Tumblr, this may be partly because people think he is Damien Hirst. It’s a long story). An anonymous Turkish investor stepped in, and the shirts are being manufactured. “They get here on Monday” claims Whybray. I have it on good account that he’s really hoping he gets sued by Snapchat.

#2 - pretending to the Pope on twitter

Just over a year ago, Simon and his friend Will pretended to be the Pope on Twitter. This was at the same time the real Pope appeared on Twitter. In the mad scrabble to report that the His royal holiest of holies had joined the modern age, some news media linked to the wrong Twitter account - linking to Simon and Will’s instead - @Ponfitex rather than @Pontifex.

Once The Guardian had corrected their mistake, Simon and Will set about creating fake appearances on BBC News and on the cover of the NME. Simon’s mum was very disappointed to learn that the BBC News appearance had also been a fake.

#3 Taking Will Self up on a dare

On an appearance on Question Time modern day renaissance wonk Will Self revealed that he was not on Twitter, and that the only way he could be persuaded to tweet was if, “a live songbird flew into my mouth”. Whybray saw this as a dare. 

Unfortunately unable to actually fly a songbird into Will’s mouth, Simon created a fake Twitter account for Will. The first tweet took care of itself:

Almost exactly 9 months to the day, Will Self appeared on Question Time again, where the following exchange took place:

Will Self: Someone’s impersonating me on Twitter and I find it extremely annoying, and like a lot of these internet things, when I approached Twitter I have to now prove that I’m me in order to have… it’s just like getting your house removed from Google Street View: you have to protest!

David Dimbleby: Are they quite convincing impersonations of you?

Will Self: Urghhh, sadly they are rather convincing yes.