Sunday, 19 April 2015


I've been playing with printing quite a lot over the last few months but it's been a long time since I saw anything through to completion. Inspired by BABE 2015 earlier this month I was determined to put that right, even if it wasn't one of the books I've been working on for a while. 

So in a departure from my birds and landscapes I decided to do something with the punched cards that our collections team have been collecting from books as the library weeds and reviews stock. Dating back to the 1960s I had to have the purpose of these cards explained to me, but after reading a few forum posts I knew exactly what I wanted to do. They won't make sense to everyone, but if they do you're welcome to contact me and I'll send you one. Nor are they particularly pretty or aesthetic but I reckon they might appeal to a certain demographic of my followers...

I was reminded I had the cards because I was toying with a more complex idea around redundant formats. I'm working through exactly what I want to do but at the moment I'm sketching out line drawings of redundant formats, aiming to print them as lino prints, possibly on another type of redundant format.  Film, vinyl, cassettes, floppy discs, slides, VHS. Things that were once the peak of technology but which we now use only for bespoke or niche purposes. The point being that I'd be printing these in an even more niche and archaic way, on materials that themselves are discarded. I just have to work out what! 

Sunday, 12 April 2015

UXLibs: Part Two: Chop Down the Door

I don't think I was the only person who turned up at UXLib without any real idea of what I was letting myself in for. I knew it was going to be different. I knew it was going to be challenging. I was fairly certain it was going to be useful. But I only had a vague idea of what we'd actually be doing. If I'm honest I only had a vague idea of what anthropology and ethnography meant in regards to user experience and libraries. I'm not completely certain I could cite a definition even now. 

What I wasn't prepared for was the way it would change my thinking and my willingness to take risks. More than this it reignited my desire to question. To ask why something is the way it is and why we are creating solutions that aren't actually solutions at all. I came away with many ideas from the conference, many new tools and skills. But this reawakened need to question, a need that has been smothered by the operational necessities of managing a large and changing service, has more value for me than any other aspect from the conference. 

Paired with this is my other key take home, connected to solutions and involving the idea of friction and intuition. This is that our services need to be intuitive, otherwise we waste time, both for ourselves, explaining or instructing, and for our users who may struggle, or even fail, to get the end result they want. 

For me the analogy that explains this best is the idea of removing a door completely, rather than attempting to provide our users with the keys to the lock. Or in other words getting rid of the underlying causes of the barriers and barriers themselves, rather than trying to find ways around, through or over them.  Out of everything from the UXLibs conference I suspect this may be a theme I return to throughout my future career, one of the few real eureka moments I've had in recent years. A moment that explains that pervading feeling of frustration when someone suggests yet another webpage, another video, another poster, rather than looking at why those things are needed in the first place.

A simple premise to understand, a more complex one to address. And that is where the friction comes in. That where services aren't intuitive, where our users do experience friction, then we can use that, learn from it, let it inform how we adjust and change. Use anthropological and enthnographic techniques to examine, map and deconstruct this friction to create services that are informed by user experience in a direct way rather than second guess the solutions they need.

What follows is a summary of some of the tools that can be used to gather that friction and the techniques that can be employed to develop it into real solutions that are user led. These aren't all the techniques explored at UXLibs, but for my own reference the ones I think are most likely to be of use to me in the future. The ones I will need my aging memory jogging about in the years to come. If you want to know exactly what went on at the rest of UXLibs there are plenty of other posts that will cover the process of fieldwork, ideation and pitching. What follows below is purely an aid for my own purposes. 

Fieldwork Techniques:

Love Letters and Break-Up Letter

Touchstone Tours, taking the form of a user showing an observer 'their' world using a service or object to provide context or focus. It can be as simple as the 'bag tour,' explained in our session, when a user takes the observer through the content of their bag to give an understanding of how they study and work. At the opposite end it could be as wide reaching as a user explaining their study and search methods in a library environment. Photo studies can be used in conjunction with Touchstone Tours to provide added insight and can also be used with Diary Studies

Speaking or Feedback Walls 

Directed Storytelling and Contextual Enquiries

Observations: as simple as it seems but needs to be given structure using a framework such as the  AEIOU Framework for Observation, encompassing Activities, Environment, Interactions, Objects and Users.

Mapping - which I didn't attend the session for and which I don't really understand as a method, at least not in a way that I would be confident employing the technique.

For further reference a couple of relevant presentations around the subject from speakers at the conference: 


I'm not sure what was covered in the other workshops around ideation, my own workshop was enough to take in and in the end was the model Navy Seals used to arrive at our final pitch idea. 

In our workshop we started off with cliche subversion, a technique that involves stating the obvious, the cliches surrounding your topic, service or question, and then subverting them, to discover the possibilities for what else you the service could entail. It is meant to remove you from the assumptions we make and open up opportunities to discover and explore problems and solutions. In some cases the subversions might seem ridiculous, obvious or unobtainable, the point of the technique is to surface all ideas, including those we might normally discount as any of the above. 

We then used a group/individual technique similar to brainstorming but which builds on the subverting cliches and combines the power of individual creation and group development. As individuals you find solutions to 8-10 of the cliches before each group member shares with the rest of the team. As individuals you then narrow your selection to 6, either building on your own ideas, creating new ones or building on someone else's. The team shares again and there is a final round with each member again narrowing their selection down to three. 

In our actual ideation for the pitch these ideas were then narrowed down again by applying a sort of SWOT analysis based on Innovation/convention/ease/difficulty - a way of sorting what would have the most impact and still be achievable, either easily with quick fixes or in a more strategic sense. 

It was interesting for me that after starting off feeling rather negative about our fieldwork and the potential for a pitch the process of subverting our findings and developing solutions as a group meant that we ended up in a much stronger position than we imagined. By trusting the methods and going into the process without a prior assumption we were able to arrive at a problem and solution that was a true outcome of our fieldwork. It took longer than expected and involved a great deal of debate and compromise, but we did reach a consensus and come up with a workable idea. 


Finally, a few key points for pitching an idea. I'll be honest, I can't think of a real time scenario where I had to pitch in such a formal way, but the theory is sound, even if the reality of applying in the future might be a bit different. 

Start off with an elevator pitch. Two sentences that sum up your idea, it's benefits, customer base and why it is different to the current situation. Then develop:

The beginning: 

  • Describe the status quo
  • Explain the observations (the evidence)
  • Demonstrate with a story based on reality
The middle:
  • Explain the insight and then the opportunity it presents
  • Make an analogy
The finish:
  • Describe the solution
  • Stress the advantages and benefits
  • Link it back the ethos - the bigger picture, what it contributes to the wider aims and objectives of the organisation or service.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

UXLibs: Part One: A Personal Reflection

I nearly always blog about my conferences. It seems to be almost ingrained in me and dates back to those times when as a new professional I was often attending conferences on bursaries or through sponsorship. 

The UXLib conference was a conference with a difference and I feel is worth two posts. It was intense, challenging, and most importantly based on real practice and fieldwork. It is possibly one of the most useful conferences I've ever attended and has left me with a toolbox that I will not only return to time and time again, but hopefully share with others. It was also the first time I've been punted down a river with champagne and hopefully the last time I've presented to a lecture theatre knowing my fly was undone, so memorable for lots of reasons! 

I'm going to blog about these tools UXLibs has given me in my next post. But first I'm going to reflect on some of the things I took out of the conference as an individual. 

The first thing I realised, and realised very quickly, is that I've got used to being a leader, being to looked for direction and that it's taken some serious reflection to be able to step back into the role of an individual working as part of a team. And even though I was aware of it, even though I made a conscious effort to take that step back, to not dominate, to allow others to shine and not interrupt, I'm not all that sure I was totally successful. So sorry guys. I did try.

Conversely, I've also found that I'm still not totally happy around people. It's not about strangers. I'm not backwards about being forwards. I can join a group of peers within the library world, introduce myself and network, something which five years ago I would have found nerve wracking. But force me to be with those people, hour after hour. Put me in a situation where I have no option, where the company is constant. Then I do not do well. Hence me fleeing the scene before coffee after the first conference dinner and my total absence at the second. I'm sure Queens' College was lovely but you couldn't have paid me to attend that night. That night I recouped, gathered my energy, wrote an outraged email about the idiocy of faffy furniture and genius bars and emerged the next day much more able to face the challenges of the final group work and pitches. I am positive I would not have made it through without that space I allowed myself and I am especially thankful to the three people that, each in their own way, made it a safe and acceptable thing for me to do. 

I also know that presenting still terrifies me. But I'm old enough and wise enough to recognise that even though it is a scary scary thing, I'm not totally terrible at it. Hence why I volunteered without any fuss. After UXLibs I also know that I don't need to spend days preparing for a presentation, that I can be effective with little preparation, as long as the material is my own and I believe in what I am saying. And you can be sure I believed in BookConnect!! 
I still wave my hands around a little (a lot) and I have a tendency to wander, but I'm coherent and can recover and if necessary adapt. Not bad  for a girl who spent the first few years of her vocal life in speech therapy and a significant part of her life being asked (if they were nice) or teased (if they weren't) about a lisp or strange accent. I'm not such the whispered advice I received just before I presented was entirely helpful, but at least it made me laugh. What did help was knowing my key points inside out and having enough background information to link these together in a coherent way. 

I hope I contributed in a positive way to Team Navy Seals. I'm fairly sure I did, even if I could be a stubborn and  argumentative twit on occasion. I'm gutted that after sneaking through to the finals we lost out to the Hazy Purples (a much better name I think) but given the uncertainty with which Navy Seals started the ideation stage it was a pleasant surprise to get through at all. In the end I think we were robbed but there's always next year to fight another battle. 

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Turning Point

This weekend has been something of a turning point for me. On Friday, after 6 hours interviewing at work I came home to the notification that my Decre Nisi would be heard on the 20th March. And after spending two weeks dreading finding it on my door step I feel remarkably centred about it. Turns out a known entity is much less scary than an unknown one. There also happens to be a partial solar eclipse at almost the exact time it will be heard, which has made me chuckle somewhat. 

I also ran. Not for the first time. That was last week, a very tentative Park Run during which I imagined pain with every step and was relieved to get over the line. This week I wasn't quite so circumspect, clocking a respectable 24.36 for the 5k. Not bad for an old lady with a dodgy ankle. But a long way off the 25k I'm still due to run in May. I'll get there though. I'm confident of that. 

Finally I finished some prints I've been developing and working on for a number of weeks now, bringing together a Lino cut inspired by my trip to Iceland and work I've been doing with maps, specifically a Bartholomew's Half inch sheet, a series I much prefer to the Ordnance Survey editions. I've had to plan and really think about how to pull the prints together. They combine transfer prints, traditional Lino cutting and my faithful birds and have taken several stages to complete. While I'm still playing with ideas, and the final prints are yet to be made, I know what form they will take and the nature of the series they will make. I'm looking at an edition of four, spring, summer, autumn and winter, coloured appropriately like the final image below once my new inks arrive. 

I've also got some other work in process, which are destined to be made into bound books once they are properly dried out. The books will be titled Flee or Flight and like the prints use second hand maps, specifically ones of areas I've lived in since leaving Manchester. The prints don't look like much at the moment but hopefully will be transformed once they are folded and bound into their covers. They are also a much more personal piece of work, representing the journey I've made over the last two years. 

Saturday, 24 January 2015

No One's Forcing You To Read This

This blog was originally started as a tool for my Chartership to CILIP although, as it name suggest, it was always intended to be a repository for my numerous interests and creations. It's covered my art, other people's art, a variety of professional and work related pieces, holidays and, over the last two years, a piecemeal account of my separation and migration to the south coast. It has, in the main, been entirely self indulgent. If you don't like that tough. No one's forcing you to read it. Also I wouldn't recommend you continue with this particular post.

What it hasn't touched so much is my running and the important role it has taken on in my life.  More than the obvious benefits of improved fitness and incredible body confidence running has become  a way of putting my day behind me. Of getting, for want of a more original phrase, headspace. It has also however become a coping mechanism, and now, unable to train due to an achilles injury, I am somewhat bereft. Forty minutes on the cross trainer just isn't the same as an early morning run in the sunshine and as such, ten days into a currently unknown period of running abstinence, I am turning to other means to keep my head and hands occupied.

I should make it clear for the sake of my mum (who I'm fairly sure is the only person who reads this) that I very content. Happier possibly than I have been for a while. Although I miss home and the culture of Bath I am finding my feet in Southampton and growing to love the New Forest and the odd bit of beauty Southampton itself throws at me. In fact finding that beauty, on Weston beach at dusk or during a quiet morning on Southampton Common, continues to surprise me in a way that Bath never did.

However with running no longer an option I've had more energy and opportunity to play and create. To think about ideas and generally build on themes in a way I haven't done in a while. In some ways the art is just like the running. I have neither a target or a particular outcome in mind. I don't measure myself or pay close attention to pace or ability or technique. Both are a means to an end, influenced by my immediate surroundings and are in the main a solitary occupation.  A way of relaxing, of being me. So while I'll miss the running at least it means I'll be doing more of the stuff below.

Lino Cuts and Stencils. (Paper, leather, maps)
Stencil and Rubber Stamp over Transfer Print
Rubber Stamps over Transfer Print
Rubber Stamps over Transfer Print

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Printing Flowers

This post follows on from the previous one rather quicker than I expected.  Due to a combination of asthma problems and a very painful Achilles heel I've been spending a lot less time running and a lot more time mooching round the flat trying to entertain myself. And with exercise off the board that normally means something creative. 

Rather than buying anything new I've just used what I had in the flat. So that's some erasers I'd bought a while ago and some remainments  from previous projects including a leather skirt and a printed Laura Ashley off cut. The inks are permanent ones I've had for a while and which print well onto a variety materials, including fabric and paper. All in all I'm rather pleased with the results although I think some refinement is needed to my leaves. 

Not all the stamps are new or developed from my flower drawings. The dandelion seeds are there simply because I love the stamp and wanted to use it again. The ants are an old stamp I made back when I was first experimenting with rubber stamps in 2013. The leaf used with them is a new one originally intended to match the composite flowers.  The geometric shapes of this stamp seemed to match the ants better than the curves of the flowers and I was then able to pair up another recycled stamp (curved leaf) with the composite flowers created by grouping repeats of the stylised petals. 

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Flowers for Printing

So I've been ill. So ill I had to take a couple of days off work which is pretty much unheard of for me as I'm one of those annoying people who will drag themselves in regardless. And to be honest, after 2 and a half days of me wandering around the place like a zombie, coughing and having hot and cold flushes, I'm fairly sure the rest of the team were glad to see the back of me and I was certainly glad to spend some quality time with my duvet.

Normally given a couple of days in bed I'd have got on with the work that has been progressing slowly for a while, namely the ongoing work with micro fiche. However I've felt so rotten I didn't really trust myself with scissors, let alone a scalpel, so I had to find something else to keep myself busy. Preferably something that didn't involve a lot of energy.

I've been playing with the idea of printing again for a while. Either with the rubbers I've previously used or doing some proper lino cuts. So I thought I'd get some sketches done and see how stylized I could make them. I should say this doesn't come naturally to me. It's years since I did any proper drawing, even longer since I painted and the transformation of images into something that can be used for printing isn't something I find easy. However I've enjoyed keeping my fingers busy with these, even if some are better than others. I suppose watch this space to see whether I get any further with the actual printing bit.