31 May 19 -

Super8: Eight intriguing articles from May.

This month, I’ve hand-picked eight handy articles on usefulness. In the outcomes we create, the skills we develop, and the things we build for others, each of us has an opportunity to make things a little more useful.

This month’s toolkit has a read for every need and purpose—with pieces on learning how to code, re-designing receipts, and finding ways to design for the elderly.

Whatever the challenge, I hope you find this selection has something to help you on your way. Welcome to Super8 in May!

1. The purpose of life is not happiness: it’s usefulness.

  • Read the full article here.
  • Written by Darius Foroux.
  • Contributor: Isabel Silvis.

This month, we’re kicking off with an oldie but a goodie, a piece that asks: what are we doing to fulfill our purpose?

We work, go shopping, go on holiday, eat dinner, and spend time online. But do these things help us become happier? Darius Foroux believes that happiness is a by-product of usefulness.

You don’t have to change the world or anything. Just make it a little bit better than before you were born. When you do little useful things every day, it adds up to a life that is well lived. A life that mattered.

When we develop digital products, do we want to build something that makes people happy, or do we want to make something useful?

This read explores how being useful, and creating things others can use, is key in making everyone’s life a little happier.

2. Desk-less organisations are finding creative ways to adapt Slack for their needs.

  • Read full article here.
  • Written by Michelle Cheng.
  • Contributor: Rowan Barnes.

If you work in an office, chances are you probably use Slack to communicate day-to-day. But if you thought the messaging tool is only for the digital domain, think again.

Lately, Slack is being adopted in industries like retail, hospitality, and agriculture. Since Slack isn’t built for these industries, these use cases are known as ‘Slack hacks’.

For example, at Wickstrom Jersey Farms, a family-owned dairy farm in California:

Slack channels give employees insight into the entire dairy process, from feeding the cows to the cheese-making, as well as gathering and sharing data on things like feeding times, cow vaccinations, and baby calf births.

From dairy farmers and wildlife biologists to luxury restaurateurs, learn how businesses are finding Slack useful for facilitating transparency and communicating on the go.

3. I wrote the book on user-friendly design. What I see today horrifies me.

  • Read the full article here.
  • Written by Don Norman.
  • Contributor: John Broadfoot.

What do Don Norman, Jakob Nielsen, Bruce Tognazzini, Steve Krug, and Jared Spool have in common? They’re all pioneers in user research and usability.

Aside from being some of the biggest names in UX, they’re also all born between 1935 and 1960.

Throughout their youth, they all contributed to the usability space right before the web was invented—a key time for the widespread consideration of users and their needs. 30 years later, they’re all in their late 50s to 80s, and author Don Norman is not impressed.

Despite our increasing numbers the world seems to be designed against the elderly. Everyday household goods require knives and pliers to open. Containers with screw tops require more strength than my wife or I can muster. Companies insist on printing critical instructions in tiny fonts with very low contrast. And when companies do design things specifically for the elderly, they tend to be ugly devices that shout out to the world “I’m old and can’t function!” We can do better.

As a leader in this space, and now part of an often-overlooked demographic, he explores the lack of usability in everyday things for the elderly.

4. A deep dive into native lazy-loading for images and frames.

  • Read the full article here.
  • Written by Erk Struwe.
  • Contributor: Kurt Smith.

One of the biggest contributors to a site’s slow page speed is images. Even if they’re not visible at the top of the page, they’re still loaded by default—and a user may never scroll down to see them. This is where lazy-loading comes in.

The idea is simple: only load a resource-heavy asset once someone scrolls to it.

Until now, developers have used different tactics with JavaScript to implement lazy-loading, as browsers didn’t provide native support.

This article looks at some of the pros and cons of pre-native approaches, as well as browser updates that can simplify the process as soon as September 2019.

5. Every life principle is worthless if you don’t master this one.

  • Read full article here.
  • Written by Michael Thompson.
  • Contributor: Sarah El-Atm. 

The premise of this piece is simple—stop letting the actions of others dictate your day.

This read from Michael Thompson opens with a scenario: traffic is backed up during peak hour, and a man steps out of his car, leaving a line of cars behind him for eight long minutes.

Not for an emergency or to help someone else, but to grab a croissant from a café. As Michael explains, Croissant Man exists in some form for everyone, every single day.

This is something that resonated with me, as over the weekend, I was standing in line to eat at a Ramen house, patiently waiting my turn.

When we were next in line, a couple managed to cut in front us. When seats became available inside, the waiter came to get the next group of people and let the queue jumpers in despite our polite protest. 

This ruined the night for a friend that was waiting in line with us. We were going to have a lovely evening out, but instead he became bitter and disappointed for the additional wait in the rain. 

The challenge is choosing how you respond to unnecessary frustrations when you can choose to find purpose, utility, and opportunity instead.

6. The humble receipt gets a brilliant redesign.

  • Read the full article here.
  • Written by Mark Wilson.
  • Contributor: Mel Bruning.

You’ve probably rifled through your purse or pocket, found one of the fifteen receipts you’ve reluctantly taken from a cashier and thought: why do I have this in here?

In this piece, Mark Wilson covers how Netflix data engineer Susie Lue reframed the scenario to be: how can this be more useful?

Here’s how she was able to design a receipt that shared valuable insights.

By adding a few additional elements, Susie was able to categorise items by type, and create a bar chart that compared item cost against other purchases in the same transaction—making something often thrown away, more purposeful.

7. Reflections on my first 1,000 hours learning to code.

  • Read the full article here.
  • Written by Peter Higgins.
  • Contributor: Jon Trumbull.

When Peter Higgins decided to transform his career, he meticulously documented his progress—a little extra work that goes a long way.

Instead of spending 1000 hours just developing his skills, he also captured his process to share with others.

He summarises his ideas into five learnings, number five being: document your progress.

No matter how tall the challenge is, your chances of success will go up significantly if you can successfully break it down into smaller challenges and solve each of these in turn.

He found that by keeping an honest record of every quality hour that was invested in training, and by watching that number grow over time, he was better able to realign his focus when morale was low.

If you’re someone that’s looking to improve in a new area, try taking Peter’s advice and measure your journey getting there.

8. How to use writing to amplify your leadership impact.

  • Read the full article here.
  • Written by Julia Clavien.
  • Contributor: Aziza Mohamed.

While most companies place (well-earned) emphasis on collaboration and face-to-face conversations, we often underestimate the impact of writing.

This article explains why writing can create greater outcomes, how to get started, and what to write. Writing allows for precision and accountability.

When you take the time to write something, it gives you time to think it through and organise your thoughts before they are shared—improving critical thinking and allowing you to take ownership of your expression.

For more reasons to get pen to paper, get stuck into this guide for practical tips and resources on spelling, grammar, clutter, subject, structure, design, and feedback.