Welcome to The Perfect Curve.

There are 173 posts in total.

Private sector forms functionality - just as bad if not worse than the public sector

simon gray 2023-10-30, 11:25:28

In #LocalGov #LocalGovDigital we're rightly concerned about how too much of our online service design and user experience falls short of the high expectations many of us would like to see of it.

But having to deal with an online letting agent's landlord/tenant portal right now, oh my days, the worst pothole form I've ever completed is a breeze compared to this.

Speaking to somebody from the letting agent's office just, she said 'I have a word for it', which I responded 'the word I have for it is abomination!' She went on to say at the previous place she worked they tried the particular product portal for a week and got rid of it it was so bad.

It's the year 12,023 of the Human Era. The Internet should be better than this by now.


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Never Mind The Glen Miller, Here's The Sex Pistols

simon gray 2023-10-28, 11:27:27

I posted the following on Facebook two years ago. The people who were 16 when Never Mind The Bollocks came out are this year now 62.

#marketing #advertising #stereotypes

Today is a significant day not just in music history, but in marketing history.

It's 44 years to the day since the UK release of the Sex Pistols' debut album, Never Mind The Bollocks, Here's The Sex Pistols.

'What is the significance of a 44th year anniversary?', I hear you ask.

Well, let me answer that question for you.

44 years ago today, when the album was released, people who were 16 on that date would have been born in 1961. ie, people who were born in 1961, would have been old enough to get married, have children, do various other things which are the first steps that the UK's legal framework considers to be 'becoming an adult'. And those nascent adults in 1977 when Never Mind The Bollocks, Here's The Sex Pistols was released will now be 60.

So when those people who were 16 when NMTB,HTSP came out, when their grandmothers were 60 they would have retired. Indeed now, although the formal state pension retirement age is some years beyond 60, 60 is still considered the age when people start to transition into 'retirement age'.

'Where are you going with this, simon?', I hear you press me because you're getting a bit bored by now.

The age cohort who [...]

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So you want to build a new council website, but why? What's wrong with your current one?

simon gray 2023-09-28, 18:25:55

The public sector digital legend that is Dave Briggs has recently started a collaborative project, the New Council Website Playboard - a shared generic high level plan for councils to use as a starting point for their own website redevelopment projects.

One of the cards I've added to it is 'Carry out an Irritations Audit'.

What does this mean? Well, pour yourself a drink and get a biscuit and I'll tell you.

If you're wanting to rebuild, redesign, re-whatever your council website, then there's obviously something wrong with the existing one. In my experience, what people feel is wrong with it boils down to one of two things (or sometimes both) - either the technology that makes the website happen, the web Content Management System, or the content itself. This analysis of what might be called the Problem Statement often ends there - 'our CMS is old now' or 'our site is too hard to navigate'. Teams might dig a little deeper and do something of a content audit to decide what pages are no longer relevant (or outdated, or trivial...), or they might have concluded there's no way the existing CMS can be adapted to deliver pages meeting modern accessibility requirements, but often the statement (which may be explicitly written or it may simply be a shared understanding) doesn't go into any further detail.

Given the number of council websites which in some shape or form have been redesigned in the last five years, you'ld think by now there would be a critical mass of [...]

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In group Public / Third Sector Digital

Make a plan for the system going down

simon gray 2023-08-30, 11:41:52

So it's looking almost certain that what caused the UK National Air Traffic Services' computer system to go down for several hours was some dodgy data in an inbound flight plan.

[Mrs. Roberts receives a call from her son's school on her wireless phone. She is standing with a cup of hot coffee or tea (shown with a small line above the cup) facing a small round three-legged table to the right. The voice of the caller is indicated to come from the phone with a zigzag line.] Voice over the phone: Hi, This is your son's school. We're having some computer trouble. [In this frame-less panel Mrs. Roberts has put the cup down on the table turned facing out.] Mrs. Roberts: Oh, dear – did he break something? Voice over the phone: In a way – [Mrs. Roberts is now drinking from the cup again looking right. The table is not shown.] Voice over the phone: Did you really name your son Robert'); DROP TABLE Students;-- ? Mrs. Roberts: Oh, yes. Little Bobby Tables, we call him. [Mrs. Roberts holds the cup down.] Voice over the phone: Well, we've lost this year's student records. I hope you're happy. Mrs. Roberts: And I hope you've learned to sanitize your database inputs.

When the GDS Service Standard was first launched, Point 11 in the acceptance criteria was to Make a plan for being offline; for reasons I don't know or understand, when the [...]

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In group Public / Third Sector Digital

The Royal Family figureheads

simon gray 2023-08-19, 17:15:33

Notwithstanding I’m actually interested in neither the Mountbatten-Windsor family nor the football, but I am interested in passing comment on the internets, but…

When Prince William, the El Presidente of the Football Association sends a good luck video message to the English ladies ahead of their forthcoming performance in a noteable challenge cup final saying he’s sorry he can’t be there in person, isn’t that a bit rude of him? I mean, yeah, he’s a busy man, he has important work to do, but is what he’s got scheduled for the weekend so important it can’t be put off, so he can be there to support the people he’s the figurehead for in person?

One of the tenuous arguments in favour of the retention of a monarchy is that the royal family are supposed to be a figurehead unifying force in a disjointed and divided world. If they manage to find excuses to absent themselves from that responsibility when there’s some actual unifying figureheading on the table to be done, what is the actual point?


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To Microsite or Not To Microsite, or, What’s the council website actually for?

simon gray 2023-08-15, 18:49:44

I’ve not been involved in council website content for a good few years now, but obviously that hasn’t stopped me taking an interest in it. 

In my early years working in local government, my job was as Web Communications Officer, working initially as part of a directorate — a group of related service areas — communications team, then moving to the Corporate Webteam in the Corporate Communications team. As a directorate Web Communications Officer it was essentially my job to take facts from service areas within my team’s portfolio and turn those facts into engaging web copy. Sometimes I got to play journalist a little too, such as when I attended the statutory public inquiry associated with a major infrastructure project within my portfolio and summarised the proceedings as part of the latest update on the project for the website. 

One of my regular frustrations during that period was the near-daily occurrence of me walking out into town for lunchtime and seeing the headline boards in front of the newsstands selling the city’s local paper, splurging a big announcement about some big new initiative within our portfolio, and seeing that headline would more often than not be the first I’d heard of the initiative. This was frustrating enough, and even more frustrating when the group responsible for the actual initiative itself were sitting in the same office less than 10 feet away from our team separated only by a walkway and an open plan cubicle divider. 

The problem of Microsites

Fast-forward a few [...]

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In group Public / Third Sector Digital

Information Governance and the PSNI data breach

simon gray 2023-08-09, 07:21:15

On the PSNI data breach, it’s important to remember there’s an individual somewhere who right now just wants to find the Marianas Trench and dive into it. Their management chain, mindful of their own legal and financial liability for the breach, will be looking to shift as much blame as possible down the tree to the individual.

They’ll point to the annual mandatory training all employees have in information governance, and say it’s therefore entirely the individual employee’s fault that this monumental stuff up took place.


Mandatory annual information governance training does little to actually prevent accidental data breaches from occurring; the purpose of mandatory information governance training isn’t to prevent breaches, it’s so that when a breach happens the organisation can throw their employee to the wolves and say ‘well the employee had their training so it’s not the organisation’s fault the breach happened, it’s the individual’s fault’.

In the ærospace industry, a staff member screws in a bolt, a supervisor watches the bolt being screwed in, and an inspector agrees with the supervisor’s assessment that the bolt was indeed screwed in properly. And every week, there’s a big meeting where everybody shares when in the last week they realised they didn’t screw a bolt in completely. And if anybody seems to be not admitting to very many bolt-screwing deficiencies over a few weeks, the MI people go ‘hang on, this seems ssusssss, nobody is really this good at screwing in bolts — what’s this person hiding’. Humans are fallible, and [...]

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In group Public / Third Sector Digital

How about a LocalGovDigital consultancy?

simon gray 2023-08-07, 17:14:09

In the LocalGovDigital sector, within our respective councils we spend an awful lot of money engaging consultants to help us do things.

Sometimes, the expenditure on the consultancy is genuinely justified - there's a skills gap within the organisation that training won't adequately fill immediately, because skills require experience as well as knowledge, and the consultants can provide both for the period of engagement; if the consultants are good, and the contract is robust, the terms of engagement for the consultancy will include proper knowledge transfer to enable the organisation to not need to engage the consultancy again.

Sometimes, the consultants are engaged not because of a skills gap, but because of a capacity gap - the skills exist within the organisation, but there are four people employed to do the job and there's a temporary need to do eight people's worth of work in a short space of time. As it happens, that's how I entered the sector in the first place, though it would be an exaggeration to say I was employed as a consultant!

Sometimes, though, there isn't actually a skills or capacity gap at all; there's the unflattering characterisation of consultants that what they do is interview all the staff and find out what the staff think should be done, write a report, and then the management goes well done, consultants, you're worth your weight in gold for this insight. Less snipingly, what consultants can bring to the party is a fresh independent pair of eyes - they can hear [...]

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In group Public / Third Sector Digital

Should the council have a citizen app?

simon gray 2023-06-28, 18:25:34

Tl;dr - I refer the reader to Betteridge's law of headlines.

But if you have a few moments spare in your busy day, the answer in most cases is the same, however there's a more nuanced argument to the question than just a single word.

It's a question I've seen many times in LocalGovDigital circles, and since it came up again in the Slack group recently I thought it might be helpful to put my answer to the person asking the question there in the form of a post for a wider audience.

So the first and foremost question for any council considering building an app might be what is the established clear user need for an app that a good mobile-first website can't provide?

And by 'established clear user need', I don't mean "as a civically-engaged citizen, I need to tell the council about a pothole or some flytipping I've just seen whilst out and about, so that I can drive safely along that road next week". The question is, is there a clear user need for an app which a user will download to their phone (and remember on which screen or folder the icon for the app is kept) which you can reasonably predict the users will use at least once a week because the functionality you're hoping to offer is something tending towards the specific that an individual user needs to do regularly and thus an app will make it easier for them to do that thing, or is the idea [...]

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In group Public / Third Sector Digital

Service menu ordering on council websites

simon gray 2023-06-21, 18:37:15

A friend this morning directed me to a link to a certain council website, which she was fairly sure had been completely redesigned recently (at the time of writing the Internet Archive WayBack Machine seems to be down, so I can't check). She'd sent it to me because she was aghast at something she saw on it, but what I saw below what she was aghast about was even more terrible to behold...

A service menu on the website home page thus:

Council website service menu
Council Tax
Recycling and waste
Transport and roads
Adult Social Care
Children, young people and families
Sport and activities
Planning and building control
Education and skills
Your Council
Births, deaths and marriages

What is this random order this list of links has been presented in?

If you know me well, you know the extent to which this sort of thing rattles my cage. In order to get myself even more rattled, I went to three other council website with a similar home page service menu User Experience strategy:

More council home page service menus
Council B Council C Council D
Council Tax Cost of Living Cost of living help
> Difficulty paying Bins and recycling Report a problem
> Pay your council tax Council Tax Local elections and Voter ID
Health and Social Care Housing Subscribe to garden waste
> Adult Social Care Planning Make a payment
> Children Social Care School Admissions Rent a council property
> Health and wellbeing Safeguarding Latest on bin collections
Cost of Living Support Parking and roads Warm Spaces
> Warm Spaces Learning and Schools Events
> Community

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In group Public / Third Sector Digital

Generic personas for Local Government

simon gray 2023-06-09, 12:24:54

Way back in 2016 I made the content strategy I'd written for the previous version of our website publicly available and edited it to make it generic rather than specific.

Time passes and I've decided to update some parts of that document and completely rewrite other parts from scratch; the finished version is still a while off as of right now, but I thought in the meantime I'd share a sneak preview of the updated Personas section.

#LocalGovWeb #LocalGovDigital #Manifesto

The Personas 

In common with standard practice in the communications, marketing, and brand management industries, content is best designed having in mind a number of fictional individuals and families which are intended to represent the breadth of potential users of the website. The purpose of these profiles is to enable web editors and content authors to have in their minds a picture of actual people with real and definable needs who will be users of the web content to focus on, rather than thinking in terms of a generic amorphous mass of ‘just anybody’. The profiles also are there to remind us of the wide diversity of citizens we provide services to and who wish to transact with us, find out information from us, or otherwise wish to engage with us (or indeed with whom we ourselves wish to engage) – indeed, to remind us not to focus on one particular group of citizens at the expense of other groups of citizens. 

Whilst by nature these are stereotypical, they are [...]

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In group Public / Third Sector Digital

The new religion of ZX81ism

simon gray 2023-05-09, 08:00:46

From Thought for the Day this morning:

Please write me 10 paragraphs which could be the core tenets of a new religion centred around the veneration of the Sinclair ZX81 personal computer:

The Sinclair ZX81 personal computer was a groundbreaking device that revolutionized the world of computing. For those who are passionate about this computer, it can become a focal point of a new religion. Here are ten core tenets that could form the basis of a religion centered around the veneration of the Sinclair ZX81 personal computer.

1. The Sinclair ZX81 is a holy device, and its significance cannot be overstated. It has paved the way for modern computing and continues to be a symbol of innovation, creativity, and human ingenuity.

2. We believe that the Sinclair ZX81 was divinely inspired, and that its creator, Sir Clive Sinclair, was a prophet who brought the gift of computing to the masses.

3. The Sinclair ZX81 represents a sacred bridge between the physical and digital worlds. It allows us to explore and understand the universe in ways that were previously impossible, and helps us to unlock the secrets of the cosmos.

4. The Sinclair ZX81 is a tool of enlightenment, and we believe that its use can lead to spiritual awakening and personal growth. It can help us to connect with our higher selves and with the divine.

5. We believe that the Sinclair ZX81 has the power to transform society, and that its widespread adoption is essential for the survival of the human race. By using this [...]

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The Rise and Rise of ChatGPT

simon gray 2023-04-28, 08:03:30

As an AI language model, I’m seeing that ChatGPT has now gone from the fun toy folks have been playing with to a tool that people are using to write full text prose passing it off as if they wrote it themselves, and I’m noticing an increased amount of people on LinkedIn reposting inspiring thought-leadership and game-changing marketing copy there. There is no doubt that the power of ChatGPT will stay with us for many years to come.

The thing is, if you’ve played with ChatGPT enough and have an analytical eye for content, you can see it a mile off; whence whenever I’ve seen what I’ve suspected as ChatGPT content I’ve checked it in ChatGPT Zero — https://gptzero.me/ — and indeed sure enough, it’s confirmed my suspicion.

I’m a full supporter of using technology to help the creative process; I’ve been using computers in my own creative work since 1985. As previously mentioned, I used ChatGPT myself to help me write a song, and I’ve been having lots of fun using Stable Diffusion, Dall•E, and Midjourney to generate images, some of which I might print on mugs to try to sell. 

But I’d like to emphasise a massive note of caution to those using ChatGPT professionally; if you’re using it to write marketing copy consider the reputational effect on your brand if you’re just copying and pasting the output without doing significant editing when your (potential) customers start seeing the exact same words written by your competitors — AI text won’t give you [...]

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In group Public / Third Sector Digital

Copyright law is broken

simon gray 2023-04-26, 07:44:43

I’m not a fan of Ed Sheeran’s music, but I’m absolutely a fan of the way he consistently stands up for the principle that all creative work is fundamentally based on all the creative work which has preceded it — all creative work is essentially a mash-up or uses samples, some of it explicitly, some of it by virtue of flowing through the veins.

This line from his testimony in his latest trial sums it up well:

‘Sheeran responded that he sometimes mixed together songs with similar chords at his performances, and appeared to grow frustrated when Ms Rice cut him off.

"I feel like you don't want me to answer because you know that what I'm going to say is actually going to make quite a lot of sense," he said.
"You could go from Let it Be to 'No Woman, No Cry and switch back," Sheeran continued under oath, referring to the Beatles and Bob Marley classics’

International copyright law when it comes to protecting creativity is fundamentally broken — it’s not written with a view to protecting the rights of creators to earn from their work and protect them from being ripped off by others, it’s written with a view to enabling multinational publishing conglomerates to go on fishing expeditions to see how they can trip people up on minor technicalities into out of court settlements.

 #music #creativity #law #publishing #copyright 


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10 Principles for Good LocalGovDigital Design

simon gray 2023-04-11, 04:41:27

If you have a liking for Apple products, then indirectly you have a liking for the design principles of Dieter Rams, whose work as Chief Designer at Braun has been credited as a major influence on Jony Ive, the former Chief Design Officer at Apple whose design ethos can be seen coursing through the veins of every Apple product since 1997. Dieter Rams himself coined his 10 Principles for Good Design as a handy distillation of his whole ethos. 

Good design: 

  • is innovative – The possibilities for progression are not, by any means, exhausted. Technological development is always offering new opportunities for original designs. But imaginative design always develops in tandem with improving technology, and can never be an end in itself. 

  • makes a product useful – A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy not only functional, but also psychological and aesthetic criteria. Good design emphasizes the usefulness of a product whilst disregarding anything that could detract from it. 

  • is aesthetic – The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products are used every day and have an effect on people and their well-being. Only well-executed objects can be beautiful. 

  • makes a product understandable – It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product clearly express its function by making use of the user's intuition. At best, it is self-explanatory. 

  • is unobtrusive – Products fulfilling a purpose are like tools. They are neither decorative objects nor works of art. Their design should therefore [...]

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    In group Public / Third Sector Digital

The Eternal Problem of date pickers and calendar controls - the year

simon gray 2023-04-03, 19:09:30

A friend earlier today shared this amusing image on Facebook:

A man on his computer entering his year of birth via a scrolling calendar picker; his son on the phone saying 'I can't use the computer today, my dad is scrolling down to his birth year'


This is a common problem with date calendar pickers on apps and websites - we want to make it easy for users to enter dates by a calendar, but if the date needing to be entered is more than a couple of years in the past it's a complete nightmare to scroll back.

If only there was a solution which could make this easier for users?

function updateYear(year)
theYear = year + "-01-01";
<label for="theYear">Year:</label><input type="number" id="theYear" name="theYear" onblur="updateYear(this.value)" /><br />

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Making maps accessible

simon gray 2023-03-01, 02:13:14

How many times have you been to read the Accessibility Statement of a website, and if it’s even mentioned maps, it’s said ‘unfortunately it’s not possible to make maps accessible’?

I was recently asked by a colleague to comment on the accessibility issues of a request by an internal department to put some interactive maps online. It transpired along the way there had been some confusion between the terms ‘access’ and ‘accessibility’, because when I went to look at the content in question in order to form an opinion I couldn’t actually access it anyway, because it was on an external party’s Sharepoint site protected by a login, and it turned out it was that aspect they wanted some help with.

So at the point of my initial reply to the email, without having seen the content, all I was able to respond was - to my shame - ‘because there’s an understanding there’s no real solution to making maps accessible, maps are generally allowed to be exempt from accessibility requirements’. I hopefully redeemed myself with my next sentence by adding ‘however, in many cases something at face value looks like it’s not possible to make it accessible, but with a degree of imagination it’s often possible to make it more accessible than simply not bothering, and the team would want to explore this with you before simply creating a link to your inaccessible maps’.

Map-based input

If the online service in question is a form the purpose of which is for the [...]

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In group Public / Third Sector Digital

Live music concert timings

simon gray 2023-02-03, 07:48:35

So tonight I’m attending a concert performance of noted semi-local popular beat combo Pop Will Eat Itself at noted local concert hall the Hare And Hounds.

The ticket and Facebook event says doors open 8:00 and the Facebook event says it ends at 2:00.

What neither say is what time the live music starts. I’m going to the event for the live music, I’m not going to the event to listen to a compilation CD before the live music starts; being a weirdo I have a limited number of friends so I’m going on my own, so unless it turns out other people I know / people who are in that limited number of friends are also going I’ll have nobody to talk to before the live music starts. I get that pubs want me to drink as much beverage as possible, but I want to be responsible for choosing how much and when I drink my beverage without having the pub try to manage me into drinking more of it. I want to arrive at the venue ‘just in time’, ie I want to arrive at the venue in time to get through all the entry procedures, get some kind of beverage to drink, and choose a place in the room to stand with about 5–10 minutes to spare before the live music starts; I’m not unreasonable, I’ll even accept a 15–20 minute window.

What I don’t want to do is arrive at the venue at 8:00 to find the live music [...]

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CRISPR - The Musical

simon gray 2023-01-14, 19:44:55

My latest music semi-release - CRISPR - the musical - I'm reasonably proud of, but the process of creating it seems to me to be sufficiently interesting that I thought I'd write it up.

The story begins with one of my son's current favourite iPad games, There Is No Game: Wrong Dimension, where during the narrative of the game one of the main protagonist characters in it - GiGi - all of a sudden breaks out into what can best be described as a Big James Bond Theme Song. For a while it stayed in the back of my mind as being something impressive and amusing, until I developed an urge - an urge, I tell you - to make a Big James Bond Theme Song myself.


There are a number of archetypes in the James Bond song genre, but the one which is my favourite - which coincidentally GiGi's Song follows - is the Diamonds Are Forever archetype, perhaps most famously followed in the modern era by Adele for her theme song for Skyfall. My first task in creating my own song in the genre was to do a basic analysis of the oroginal template songs (having done the performer's course rather than the academic's course at music college I missed out on Schenkerian analysis, but, yerkno, I'm not completely thick) to create a template of my own, and from there concluded [...]

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The code behind this site is a bit of an abandoned project; I originally had lofty ambitions of it being the start of a competitor for Twitter and Facebook, allowing other people to also use it turning it into a bit of a social network. Needless to say I got so far with it and thought who did I think I was! Bits of it don't work as well as I'd like it to work - at some point I'm going to return to it and do a complete rebuild according to modern standards.