Archive for May, 2004

Norwegian Good….

Part I – No way! I’m in Norway!

Safely back in Blighty after a trip to the land of Norse-men. And very nice it was too, I found Norwegians to be lovely, welcoming, and well mannered bunch of folk. Oslo boys and girls are all well dressed strapping six footers with perfect bodies, and big blond bouncy hair doos! On the flip side, the booze is pricey.

Any-road, I was there to work. NRK, is the national public broadcaster funded by a licence fee. It faces a lot of the similar problems we at the BBC face. Mind you the licence fee in Norway is £190! And NRK employee’s don’t have to pay it (unlike here folks)! So me and a colleague spent three days doing workshops, and giving presentations and talking about design for online and interactive TV. I think they thought design was about choosing colours and optimising jpegs. That’s graphics in my book. Design is about systems and how people use them. They’d perhaps not considered this. It’s a bit crazy because all around Oslo I saw some great design in the fields of transport, architecture and fashion.

The main thing we talked about is how to reduce the number of links… Scando sites all seem to have LOTS of scrolling. This may have come about because VG, which is a newspaper, had online content early on. it’s website reads like a newspaper, it even looks like a newspaper on a table! Where as UK and US sites developed a they’re own form of layout, language and usability, Norse sites basically took the form and layout of newspapers. From what I can gather, VG is sort of like The Sun with perhaps a bit of the Daily Mail. There’s a couple of other popular sites, and they’re all huge too. Norwegians seem to favour smorgasbord design, where all the stories are laid out in front of them, they read the whole thing, then perhaps click on something that takes their fancy. Norwegians are very tech savvy, with more broadband users per head that the UK. So, yes the page loads quickly, but is it usable?

I was really careful to not say, ‘this is the way we did it, this is how you must do it’. Hey, if scrolling is an attribute in Scandinavian internet usage, so be it, but to me it seems overly complicated. One thing I heard a lot was ‘well people click on it, people use it’. One thing I’ve learnt is that a: users will click anything, this isn’t necessarily a good thing, b: click thru’s aren’t the best way of measuring a sites success. It’s like measuring the success of a super market layout by the amount of footsteps taken, if things are laid out in an easy user friendly way, the amount is less.

The other issue they face is departmental fiefdoms, where people don’t want to share resources, and worse, users. And in the trad model you can see why, dept A gets next years budget based on it’s click thru’s. It wants to keep users clicking like mad around the pages it owns. One idea talked about at the beeb was budgets perhaps factored by how well you offered users links to other similar content in other areas, after all, users just want the content, they don’t care which dept it’s served up from.

In the end it comes down to this.. They have a great bunch of people, great content, and a really opportunity to shift the paradigm of Scandinavian website design and usability. If, over time, they can make a page that’s light, strong and usable, people will wonder why they put up for so long with all these other behemoth pages.

Part II – No way, I’m in bar in Norway – hic!

Work over, we had the weekend to mess about. Saturday night we went to see the sell out Team Antonsen live show. Think Jackass + The Mary Whitehouse Experience + Trigger Happy TV, watched in Wembley Arena with 9000 other people – in a language you can’t understand! Luckily the fellow beeber who came with me was Norwegian, so imagine a gag, 8999 people laughing, her translating it for me, the me going… ahhh, heh heh. And they say comedy is universal… Lots of it was taking the piss out of people from the north, then some famous burned fireman came on (think Simon Weston) then a famous para-olympic skier with no arms (think Abu Hamza). There was a lot of penis gag demonstrations, and a rock band on at the end singing about Mexico (?)… in all one of the most surreal experiences of my life. I also got to eat Reindeer, and was forced to drink a cocktail in bar that consisted of a shot of Uzo, Tabasco floated on the top of that, then tequila on top of that… The rest is a blur

Anyway, photos of these sort of things here [Norway]

Norway a go go!

NRK, the national broadcaster in Norway, hav invited me to come and present research on how we’ve redesigned the BBC homepage. Us PSB’s have got to stick together! So, it’s a 7:20 am flight to Oslo tomorrow.

Look how long there homepage is! Talk about below fold! Seems to be a trait of Scando media sites from what other things I’ve found. At least it encourages users to scroll, said one Beeb Userbility Manager….

They’ve got a copy of The Glass Wall (a.k.a ‘how we built the homepage’. Google it, it’s hard to find now but is out on the net somewhere, much to the chargrin of Beeb internal comms, tee-hee).

I’m looking to get some interesting Photography done too.

Updates upon my return at the weekend..


Cracking the safe at The Bank of England!

Spent a splendid boozy Friday evening at The Old Bank of England at the invitation of my chum Jeremy, who works for Fullers, the owners. He wanted some colour advice as it’s having a spruce up.

While there we were invited to look at the strong rooms by the manager. The building was the first (and only) ‘branch’ of the Bank of England, indeed the first branch of any UK bank. Situated near the Law Courts it helped handle monies received from fines and bail etc, rather than risk transporting them all the way along to Threadneedle Street in the City.

During the war it held some of the crown jewels too. The safe in the last photo remains jammed/locked shut. If any one out there knows about old safes, go into the pub and try to get it open for them, as no one knows what’s in it. A bit worse for wear we all tried heaving and hoeing it, but it didn’t budge. The Manager said they’d tried WD40, hammers, crow bars… Come on England’s Historic Safe Enthusiasts it needs cracking!

The Safe at The Old Bank of England

World Wide Wonderland

By now you’ll have started seeing the new “adverts” for featuring the new logo. Featuring the strap-line World Wide Wonderland.. geddit? It’s this that I’ve been working on for the past couple of months. It’s not been without it’s ups and downs either.

There was the launch of Wonderland, staring Val Kilmer, which has fortunately been panned by the critics so that’s good news for us. Or the fact that wonderland was a code name in the early 90’s for a police sting into child abuse. Anyway, I think the trails, and indeed the concept, steer clear enough away from these associations.

It’s by far the biggest production that BBC New Media have done. And, I have to say, looks rather good. It’s quite hard to get across a lot of different services yet maintain a coherent theme, all in 60 seconds.

Anyway, here’s some ‘behind the scenes’ photo’s of the set for the advert. I’d forgotten just how long and slow shoots are, there’s lots of standing around and drinking tea.

World WIde Wonderland shoot for

Footballers Wives Wine

Footballers wives wine
Class in a bottle avalible at your local Asda

War, photography, and what we actually see.

Photos of Iraqis Being Abused by US Personnel” href=””>The Memory Hole > Photos of Iraqis Being Abused by US Personnel

This week has once again brought home to me the power of pictures. I’ve been following the role of photography in the current global climate very closely, particularly in Iraq. (For a great read on the subject of shocking imagery and it’s use in the British media, read Body Horror: Photojournalism, Catastrophe and War)

War photography has always been staged, manipulated and re-touched. Capa, though he never fully admitted it while alive, hinted that his famous falling solider image might not be as real is it’s subsequent tag line in Life magazine says. There’s much discussion of such things here. The US flag raising on Iwo Jima also, has a well know history, discussed here, various photo’s here.
While people seem to accept re-staging, or at least acknowledge it. It can back fire. Brian Walski found this out when he ended up being sacked from the LA Times for combining to photo’s taken seconds apart to form a more pleasing composition. The three versions can be seen here. It seems if you’re going to doctor something and pass it of as reportage, at least do a good job and go easy on the clone tool. Walski apparently photoshopped this in the field, on a laptop, after being up for three days straight. He’s since attributed his actions to a ‘momentary lack of judgment’ and stress. It’s a shame because some of his other images are extremely powerful, yet it cost him his career. He’s not the only one to loose there job for taking a picture. Here in the UK the Evening Standard closed ranks when it was accused of photoshoppery wrong doings.

While on the one hand we have professional photographers sending home images, this is perhaps one of the first wars where we’re seeing images taken by the troops themselves. Only in February the World Press Photo awarded Jean-Marc Bouju first prize for this image of an Iraqi father comforting his son in a detention camp. Contest judge Ruth Eichhorn, photography director at GEO Germany, said:
“It shows the suffering of the people in a very complicated war. It’s not important who the man is. It’s not important who made him wear the hood. The image, with the barbed wire, is symbolic,”
adding “It’s very graphic. I don’t think these plastic hoods have been used much before and so the image looks quite scary but it also shows love. Love of the man for his son.”

How different now we’ve seen those hoods used in the Abu Ghraib jail. I thing I think most alarming about these torture pictures, is the way such horrific subject matter is photographed in a casual ‘one for the album’ sort of way. This is a new form of victory war photography, real and uncensored, ugly and triumphant.

I don’t know what went through these guards minds inside that prison, I can only think it was something akin to the Stanford Experiment. Nor can I explain the conduct British service men accused of abusing a prisoner. As to fake or real, it’s debated here. (I’m thinking set up, but similar events may have took place)

Here in this country we have an almost nostalgic Colditz style view of prisoner’s of war, bribing the guards with cigs, digging escape tunnels, putting on shows to boost moral etc. Yet I’m sure torture happened then and there as it does now, that’s why it’s called interrogation. However you don’t imagine the sort of acts being done by a female US Army Reservist who was what, a waffle waitress from Nebraska or what ever…

Take a look at these images, because although scenes like this have no doubt happened throughout history, at least in this war, we’re getting to see them. How we act upon this information is another matter…

Not fairy good at all

I cannot express enough my contempt for the recent London ‘don’t litter’ ad campaign featuring the London Litter Fairy. As if people who litter believe in fairies? As if anyone believes in fairies? It’s not even as if London is even synonymous with fairies! Cottingley yes, but London, a massive city of over 800,000 people?

But then to back it up with poetry… rhyming poetry as well, arrrgh! It’s too much! Warning, read this and you’ll be sick BAD LITTER POETRY IN FULL

In the stillness of the night, Does a fairy, put things right?
No, teams of badly paid and exploited individuals do at anti social hours, they’re often from poor backgrounds or are working illegally. Just another part of Brtain’s grey economy, they do the jobs no one else wants to do.

Does she clear up all your litter, Crisps, kebabs, old cans of bitter?
Genius getting bitter to rhyme there. Honestly, when was the last time you saw a can of bitter in the street? Some one let CAMRA know…

Or tidy up beneath the stars, Fag-butts tossed from passing cars?
..or the 100’s of cig ends left by groups of smokers outside offices, but that don’t rhyme.

And…as night slides gently in to day, Will all your litter have gone away?
Arrgh!, we are not children! we can understand the concept of litter and social responsiblity This has to be written by a 15 year old girl from the countryside who likes the Pre-Raphaelites.

What next? ‘Save energy, turn out the light’ says the power pixie?

Here’s what they should have done in 72 pt type:

Londoners, it cost £100 million a year to clean the streets of litter, that’s your money and could be spent on transport, hospitals, the homeless and schools if you helped keep your city cleaner – Think on!


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These are my personal views and not those of Channel 4 or the BBC
May 2004
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