Is there anything in 3 clicks?

I’ve just started a long, long project at work of replacing forty or so websites which have long been neglected with something more modern, but in the process I’ve come across a ‘3 click’ rule I never knew existed.

As part of the project, which is replacing healthcare websites intended for patients of all kinds of services to find out what they can get, where they should go and who they can call if they need to know something else, I get to experience agency life again: working with a client to deliver something that meets their needs and ticks all the boxes their website needs to.

I was quite surprised to find that as part of the project, one of the boxes the website needed to tick was that any piece of information was never more than 3 clicks away.

Given that this was a relatively small website, that wasn’t much of a problem – and I like a challenge – but it did leave my arguing with the Intern who was putting together the content and site map ahead of starting to build the site about how the menu should work.

I was arguing that anything titled “Patient Information” couldn’t be a menu option simply because that’s exactly the best way to sum up the purpose of the entire website, but I lost. We agreed to disagree – and that’s how it should be.

The site has been delivered, the client is happy and it’s ticking the boxes they laid out at the start. But I can’t leave it there. Because there’s 35 more of these sites to go, and I crave to know whether this is one of those situations where I’m wrong (and so I should shut up) or one of those situations where I need to come up with a better way of convincing people.

Foiled by the three clicks

On the face of it I didn’t get my way because I couldn’t think of something better to call the menu option but in reality I lost because my way would fall foul of this ‘three clicks’ thing I’d been introduced to.

If I’d been left alone to build the site from scratch with no clients or Interns to please then I’d probably have gone with five menu options with sub menus taking people further. I’d have had: Home, Our Story, Our Services, Get Help and Contact Us.

That would’ve meant that someone looking for some bits of information might have had to click through maybe three or four links but at least I think those three or four clicks would’ve been sensible ones.

I came across a similar argument with a colleague over making things easy to find on an Intranet site. Their argument: everything essential for people to do should be linked directly from the homepage. My argument: logical menu structure which puts things where people expect them.

I won that one, but then we never ended up building the site anyway.

Following it to its ultimate aim, as sites get more complex then the three clicks rule just means long and hard to use top-level menus or even longer pages of content.

Ultimately, the aim for 3-click access to any bit of content on the site is somewhat admirable. I like the concept, and the idea that putting the user and their experience (in this case saving them time and perhaps some menu-induced bother) is important because it is and it often gets forgotten.

Simple sites that just do what you want and don’t make a big fuss about it absolutely rock. But I’m concerned that setting an arbitrary number of clicks to access anything is just systematising something that can’t be boiled down like that.

What do you think – is there anything in this or am I just overthinking it? Tweet me @picnarkes.

Illustration shared on Flickr by Andy Bright, illustrated by Claire Murray. (C) Some rights reserved.

Preparing to go car free

It disgusts me that I’ve now had a driving licence for eight years, just because of how old it makes me feel – but for eight years and seven months I’ve loved driving and now I’m preparing to give up my car again.

It’s the third time I’ve had to go own-car-free. First was when I went to University (a practicality), the second time when I started working in London in a job which paid me not nearly enough to live, let alone have a car and now I’m doing it again because I don’t want to spend all of my 20s in debt.

If this time is anything like the last two times then not having a car will have the same side effects. Any of these sound familiar?

1. I WILL BECOME THE LAZIEST PERSON YOU KNOW, AND I WILL NEVER SHOW UP TO THAT THING

I’ll avoid going places more than I already do because everywhere is suddenly far further away, trains only go places I don’t want to go and have timetables that make the trip impractical and I’m not getting a taxi because then I might have to talk to the driver

2. I’LL NEED A CHANGE OF CLOTHES WHEREVER I GO

The only time I’ll ever be arsed to go out is when it’s raining, and no matter how heavy it looks I’ll always assume it won’t be too bad. I will arrive everywhere with my hair flopped forward, hair product dripping into my mouth and my clothes more useful for putting out chip fat fires.

3. THE THREE POINT CHECK WILL FAIL EVERY TIME

I’m male. I have, and carry with me at all times my phone, my keys and my wallet. The three point check takes place when I first leave the house and every 30 or so minutes until I’m back home again, when I promptly lose all three without noticing.

The only way I can currently spot my keys through a quick pat on the outside of my jean pocket is because of my chunky car key. When it’s gone, I might as well be sedated because I’m going to spend three months freaking out that I’ve lost my keys.

4.MY LIFE WILL GET SHORTER

When you drive somewhere from here, it takes about 30 minutes. When you get a train from here, it takes about an hour and a half. Doesn’t matter much where you want to go – it’ll be further away.

Which means less time to do whatever it is that you wanted to do. So what’s the point? See #1.

Selborne to Alton

5. I WILL BROWSE CAR WEBSITES FOR THE NEXT FEW YEARS

Despite knowing my choice is for good reasons, it aint gonna stop me looking for ways to get back on the road. No longer having a car I’ll suddenly need to know everything about all of the cars that I’d like to buy.

The best tyre to buy for a Fiesta ST? Probably in my head by next week. 0-62 time of a Fiat 500 Abarth? Yup, that’ll be there too.

Just 15 months and 30 days to go.

Ideology alone doesn’t make real people’s lives better

Whether you believe that public ownership is the right way to go about things or that everything should be run by profit-intending companies, if you’re pursuing transforming one to the other across the board then you better have a bloody good reason.

There were murmurings of the ideology debate of public v private hanging about before the election in May, but with Jeremy Corbyn and Andy Turnham currently playing one-up on what they’d buy back it seems both are missing the point that it doesn’t really matter.

When Ed Miliband got involved in the energy market we all ended up paying more

Most people couldn’t care less how something happens, just that it does. Most people (including me) don’t mind private or public, as long as it achieves what it’s supposed to and the outcomes are the best they can be.

In the same way, most people don’t see why you’d change something that was working unless you had a way of making it much better. Humans are naturally lazy, we all know that, and so we’re also naturally suspicious or untrusting of people who aren’t.

We just need you to tell us what difference it’d make to us

Take that person at work who seems super-human: promoted every couple of weeks, gym at lunch, charity fun-run at the weekend and fosters 2 or 3 children. Oh, and they’ve baked a cake and popped it in the break room if you fancy a slice. We all wonder what they’re after, deep down, while smiling politely and eating their delicious cake.

So as much as we don’t like that guy, we’re not going to vote for someone who is going to throw the railways, energy companies and whatever else into the turmoil of nationalisation purely because they’re going to do that.

We need more – and that’s a problem because neither Burnham nor Corbyn have ever run a railway or an energy company, or a water company. They are, at best, ‘expert customers’, and history tells us that when politicians get involved in running things they know nothing about it starts to get messy.

Soundbite politics demands promises of x number of trains being run on certain lines, an increase of x number of seats or a cut of x per cent of ticket prices. All impossible or incredibly difficult to achieve. And when it doesn’t happen, blame is on the boss – forced to hand back a bonus and then step aside for the next one in line, despite never really having a chance.

Just look at how Network Rail gets treated when things go wrong, a series of problems that are ultimately down to a lack of historic investment in the track, trains and people (there’s not enough of any of them) and a lack of enough money right now.

Or when Ed Miliband got involved in the energy market with his pledge to cap the prices suppliers could charge for gas and electricity, even without being in power or realistically having much chance of getting any, and we all ended up paying more as a result.

Authenticity is great, but we do actually want you to make our lives better too

Changing things because you believe in them, because you don’t like them or because you think something else would just be intrinsically better is fine when you’re picking paint for the spare bedroom but I don’t think it’s wrong to demand more than “because ideology” from our elected officials.

You see, as much as the coverage of the first tranche of share sales in RBS drove me mad last week – with the fictional lost £1bn leading Labour’s criticism – it was a massive missed opportunity for ideology and reason to come together.

Imagine a world where instead of Barbara Keeley, the shadow treasury minister, appeared on the Today programme to chastise George Osborne for following advice from people who know things about how money works and for generally being a Conservative, Labour had instead campaigned during the election for full-nationalisation of RBS.

Given that most people currently hate, dislike or aren’t really all that fussed about bankers nationalising a bank seems like about the right thing to do especially with only 20% or so to go.

A nationalised RBS could’ve been home to a much stronger Help to Buy ISA to give people a real prospect of owning a home instead of a fake one, it could’ve offered cheaper car insurance for young people priced out of the market and all those small business loans that we need to give people jobs and grow the economy back to where it should be.

That would’ve done some good, ticked the ideology box (not that it matters to most) and not have sounded all that mad really.

Perhaps I’m not quite right in the head but regardless of whether it’s hard-left, hard-right or centre-ist ideology that they’re spouting, unless politicians can translate the why beyond their own beliefs and into something that’ll make things better for me, then I fail to see why they bother at all.

RBS Photo by Mark Ramsay. Gas Burner photo by Steven Depolo

#642Things: LIVUNG

It’s your worst nightmare isn’t it? You never think about it as you walk past people on the street, sat on the pavement with their manky sleeping bag, bits of newspaper, their scruffy jumper and the obligatory dog. This is one of those things you wake up in the middle of the night sweating over, this.

I’ve always been different. Right back to primary school people always used to be able to spot it and, of course, they’d pick on it. It’s what kids do isn’t it? Seek out the ones who just aren’t quite the same and then make sure they know about it; more fool them though because every one I’ve ever met who was bullied at school has turned out far better than the ones who spotted it. It must be something about late-developing genius, not having the skills to blend in early or something means you stand out from the crowd when you’re older. Couple it with just a little tiny bit of genius and there you go: a success.

Well this is me standing out now, Mum.

Sat here on the closed lid of this toilet, waiting for the cleaners to shut up shop so that I can have free rein over the place for another night.

I was reading about it a few nights before it happened: when most people get made homeless they spend a few weeks, maybe a few months, doing what they call ‘sofa surfing’: staying with friends, switching between them, perhaps never telling anyone the full story of why you’re there or ever mentioning that you’re, y’know. That you don’t necessarily have a home of your own at the moment.

It means the homelessness figures are all wrong, so it’s a right pain for the Government to work out just how many of us there are. Not that I’m in their figures either. I don’t suppose even the most attentive homeless charities have taken to scouring their local IKEA after hours for the distinguished modern hobo have they?

It’s quite a good place to stay, when you think about it. I’ve not been doing badly out of it anyway – it’s been nine months now that I’ve been here, and the 99p breakfasts still haven’t lost their edge. I’m getting a bit sick of meatballs to be honest.

IKEA’s got just about everything a middle class person without somewhere to lay their Waitress organic quinoa might want. A comfy bed for the night, every night, no matter what kind of mattress you prefer. There’s sofas, desks, chairs and more cushions and rugs than you could ever want to lie on and the moonlight shining through the skylights dotted about the place makes it feel just a bit romantic.
The day times here are easy: I try and get out as much as possible but spending the day here an be a lot of fun and less hassle, especially if it’s raining out. The one thing this place doesn’t do well is washing or drying clothes.

I designed 4 kitchens today; the first time round I acted the customer and pretended I’d got an absolutely massive one. I had them putting everything in.I think we ended up with about four coffee machines and all at different heights so that my dwarf wife and her 7ft tall step-son could both have easier access, and then two for me obviously. Because sometimes I like decaf.

By my fourth time round I switched roles, and I ended up designing the kitchen for this lovely couple who’d come in with their 18 month old daughter.

She slept for most of the consultation, but towards the end – just when we were discussing the merits of a stainless steel sink over a granite one – she woke up and there wasn’t a peep out of her. Just a lovely smile. Even she must’ve liked the kitchen.

It ended up looking lovely on the screen and they were so pleased with it. They said I could pop over for a cuppa once they’d got it finished if I had the time.

The night times are a bit harder. There’s just so much time.

It was all so sudden when it happened that I didn’t think all that much about it. I just had to find somewhere to be, and I wanted to get a new bookcase. So there I was. In IKEA. And here I am waiting for the cleaners to finish up and lock up. They won’t be long now, I suspect. They’re normally done by about 11, which is quite impressive if you think about the size of this place, and they’ll be long gone by11.30. Then it’s all mine.

I usually wander about at first. The toilets, where I hide from the cleaners each night from about 9pm, are at the very front of the store so every night when I emerge it’s just like the first time I walked in through the door. I head straight for the beds. Through the pre-made living rooms, past the bloody kitchens and into the ‘desk and chair’ section.

They really do keep that hydraulic fake-arse running all the time testing the seat, you know. It scared the absolute shit out of me the first night when I heard it: I’d forgotten it was there, and it sounds so odd in the dark when you can’t see what’s happening and you remember that you’re creeping about in an IKEA store after it’s closed, looking for somewhere to sleep.

I don’t know what I thought it was but I was almost certain I’d been caught and I was about to get slung out, or worse slung into a cell somewhere. Maybe it’d be better in a cell?

It’s good to have a bed each night, don’t get me wrong, but living in IKEA isn’t the easy ride you might think. I mean aside from the farts that a diet of cheap bacon and eggs and meatballs and chips generates, there’s the problems finding a plug to charge your phone, the constant fear of being caught, and the bloody one-way system.

You’d never be able to get lost in your own house after nine months living there, would you? Yet, I can still manage it in this place.
If I’ve learnt anything from these last few months it’s that short cuts are never shorter routes to where you wanted to be. They all lead to the children’s section and in my case an hour or so of trying to get comfortable sleeping on a rubberised, garish sofa. I dread to think how much urine it hasn’t absorbed.

Nope, never believe short cuts are going to get you where you want. You get offered everything you’ve ever wanted, a chance at happiness, to do exactly what you want without all of that pesky admin and agro.

Then they find out, and they have to go and spoil it.

Picture by Fernanod on Flickr

A week with Apple Music

It’s been a little more than a week with Apple Music now, but today I reinstalled Spotify and walked away – but I didn’t want to.

If you read my blog earlier in the week, you’ll know I’m not anti-Apple at all and I’m pretty convinced that they’ve created the future with Apple Pay. I’ve got a MacBook Pro, an Apple Watch, two iPhones (I’m still not sure what to do with the 5C I keep in my desk drawer really), an iMac and an iPad. I’m really sold on the whole Apple thing, but Music just isn’t quite right.

When I pick up an Apple product I expect that I’ll work out how to use it pretty instinctively, but I’m still struggling with Apple Music. I’ve never read instructions for any of my other Apple products, but with Apple Music I’m increasingly feeling like I need a Reader’s Digest guide for it – and that’s just because of the awful UI.

I think it feels more like I’ve been given accidental access to full-length previews of songs on the iTunes store than a dedicated steaming service

There’s plenty of people around the Internet saying the same thing about the UI being awful: on OS X it feels badly wrapped off from the iOS App and on both you can get lost in a set of menus in search of an option that doesn’t exist.

Clicking on a song takes you to the album, clicking on an album takes you to the artist and I’ve no idea what clicking on an artist does but I can only assume it’ll have something to do with downloading a U2 album.

Basically, I think it feels more like I’ve been given accidental access to full-length previews of songs on the iTunes store and not that I’ve signed up to a shiny new streaming service.

Even the little things, which Apple are usually so good at, aren’t quite there: My offline playlists don’t work when I’m offline, I’ve somehow ended up with entire albums in playlists instead of individual songs and when I click play on anything there’s a noticeable pause while it considers playing it.

And don’t even get me started on why everything you search leaves you in the ‘new’ tab, or why you have to turn off connect in restrictions to get a bloody ‘Playlists’ button on iOS.

The whole thing looks like a marketing team leading the development schedule, the development schedule leading the UI and no one having the balls to mention that even before it became a music discovery and streaming app, iTunes was already a mess.

I’m sticking around for now, but only because I want it to be better than it is. I mean, they fixed maps eventually didn’t they?