‘As pretty as an airport’ (or a standing desk)

As beautiful as a standing deskIt was a long weekend here in the UK which gave me some time to make some final adjustments to a desk I’ve been building and take a photo. And, here it is.

Many years ago I read Douglas Adams’ Last Chance to See (which on a side note was one of my original motivators for wanting to work at WWF). Though I was maybe fifteen when I read this book, one of several notions that stuck with me was:

“It’s no coincidence that in no known language does the phrase ‘As pretty as an airport’ appear”

In the twenty years following, airports have been upping their game when it comes to design. Standing Desks however are severely lacking in the ‘pretty’ department (even if they’re currently trendy). If you haven’t looked into this yourself, try an image search now for ‘Standing Desk’. Even try a Pinterest search where you limit the results to the things that design conscious human beings think are worth looking at, and you’ll see standing desks are struggling.

There are a few exceptions, including the craftsmanship of MoFo’s own Simon Wex. But mostly, standing desks are not very pretty.

But still, I wanted a standing desk, and one that I’d want to look at for the many many of the hours in my life spent working. And I didn’t feel like spending hundreds of pounds buying an ugly office version, so I challenged myself to build something not-ugly. For relatively little money.

To credit my sources, I basically combined the two desks below into the thing I wanted (and added an extra shelf to stash the laptop):

  1. This lovely desk
  2. The approximate angles and measurements of this standing desk (in particular the negative slope keyboard stand)

Screenshot 2015-04-07 21.53.24 Screenshot 2015-04-07 21.54.29

The three horizontal shelves were IKEA shelves left in our house by the previous owners, so I spent about £25 on the remaining timber and carriage bolts to hold the frame together.

I’ve been using it for a few weeks now, and am thoroughly enjoying it.

Also, making things is fun.




Mile long string of baloons (6034077499)

  • Removing the second sentence increases conversion rate (hypothesis = simplicity is good).
  • The button text ‘Go!’ increased the conversion rate.
  • Both variations on the headline increased conversion rate, but ‘Welcome to Webmaker’ performed the best.
  • We should remove the bullet points on this landing page.
  • The log-in option is useful on the page, even for a cold audience who we assume do not have accounts already.
  • Repeating the ask ‘Sign-up for Webmaker’ at the end of the copy, even when it duplicates the heading immediately above, is useful. Even at the expense of making the copy longer.
  • The button text ‘Create an account’ works better than ‘Sign up for Webmaker’ even when the headline and CTA in the copy are ‘Sign up for Webmaker’.
  • These two headlines are equivalent. In the absence of other data we should keep the version which includes the brand name, as it adds one further ‘brand impression’ to the user journey.
  • The existing blue background color is the best variant, given the rest of the page right now.

The Webmaker Testing Hub

If any of those “conclusions” sound interesting to you, you’ll probably want to read more about them on the Webmaker Testing Hub (it’s a fancy name for a list on a wiki).

This is where we’ll try and share the results of any test we run, and document the tests currently running.

And why that image for this blog post?

Because blog posts need and image, and this song came on as I was writing it. And I’m sure it’s a song about statistical significance, or counting, or something…

Menu Planner: Sequence of user needs

Here’s the next instalment from my Coursera project notes:


Decomposition of the problem/gap by sequence of user needs

This has been an interesting exercise but I’m looking forward to doing some actual design and prototyping work soon.

I’ve also been thinking about how much more flexible software design can be than physical product design; especially hosted auto-updating software like a web app.

The best online page turning book/magazine

I’ve seen a lot a shiny, fancy and useless online page turner book things, and typically hate them for their reliance on flash, the difficulty of reading them and the fact that we’re combining the worst of digital and non-digital technologies mainly to impress the people responsible for publishing the content rather than the people who are meant to read it.

This one was great though:


The key difference being the link on the left: “Download the MOBI file directly”.

I can flick through the book as I would at a shop, get a feel for the content, and then if it’s worth it, email the file straight to my Kindle for a proper reading experience.

That’s more like it now.

Specific thoughts on the @Coursera experience

First, I’d like to say a massive thank you. I really value the chance to study this excellent material at zero financial cost, and more importantly I love the opportunity you provide to people all around the world who don’t have the finances or the circumstances to otherwise consider such an education.

I also know what it’s like to maintain and develop a complex online system while supporting active users, so this feedback is by no means an accusation of negligence. You will have thought about much of this already I’m sure, and if it’s already on a project roadmap somewhere then please excuse me.

In short, this is not a letter from a grumpy customer; I just thought it may be useful to hear some specific feedback and ideas that could help with the online experience:

When viewing and submitting assignments

  • Include some visual indicator as to which ones you’ve already submitted. A tick would be plenty.
  • Likewise for showing which assignments you have completed your peer-reviews for. If you forget, you have to click into each item to check what you have and haven’t done. Even then it’s confusing to remember.
  • The general visual hierarchy on this page is confusing. Those blue buttons jump out way more than the text you really want people to read (i.e. the assignment titles)
  • Indicate the assignments where the existing submission deadlines are closed (I’m only in week 2 so maybe this happens after week 1 evaluation is done, but currently its an effort to digest what my next steps are and how much I have to do before Sunday night)

Class Homepage

  • Bubbling up some top level stats on assignments due/completed to the homepage would be useful

Syllabus page

  • Ability to mark-off each item you have watched/completed would be nice. Like the assignments, if you’re doing this in the evenings after working, and you’re already tired, every little helps. I found myself relying on visited link colour, and that’s not a very cross-platform solution :)
In summary, the simpler you can explain what’s expected of people (and by when), the more enjoyable the learning experience will become. Let them focus on the learning, rather than the admin (unless of course you’re secretly trying to teach personal admin skills).

That’s it for now, as I have homework to do!

I hope that’s useful in some way, and thanks again.