My Notebook

My notebook is where I keep random notes, experiments and bits of research. Some of these become full posts in time, others stay here for prosperity.

1

Will we all be working from home? TL;DR: no!

Will we all be working from home? TL;DR: no!

If the Twitterverse is to be believed, we will all be working from home once the Coronavirus Pandemic settles down. It is true a lot of us have worked from home, and more companies are looking at it as an option.

Sadly, “we” depends on how you look at the data.

(Disclaimer: this is based on UK data from the Office for National Statistics).

My estimate is 20-25 percent of the UK workforce could work from home. That is, they’re in a role that has the potential to be home based assuming no other factors influence it. For example, people working in banking could work from home (hold that objection you’ve thought of).

Once you start making assumptions about the type of work that number starts to fall dramatically. Back to banks – a large part of the banking workforce are in branches where face-to-face contact with customers is needed.

In all, I think around 5-7% of the UK workforce are in jobs that could sustainably be home based.

What do I mean by sustainably? If you need to physically interact with other people regularly or use machinery then you might not be able to work from home.

This stacks up with my past experience where “work from home” initiatives have been disruptive in some companies. You might want to read my article on remote working for deeper insights.

2

The Kübler-Ross Model

The Kübler-Ross Model

When I studied organisational design and change management, I was introduced to the Kübler-Ross Grief Cycle. It describes “5 stages of grief” that are supposed to occur when someone experiences an intense shock such as death, restructuring or redundancy. The person will enter a stage of denial, become angry, reach a low point of depression and then begin to recover by bargaining before finally accepting their new normal. If the depression isn’t dealt with, they’ll enter a crisis and may never recover.

This model is fraught with difficulties. It lacks empirical evidence to support it and is, frankly, more pop-psychology than serious science. That said, for managers who are struggling to cope with the daily rigours of business and lack a formal training in psychology it is a useful shorthand. As one of my instructors pointed out: you’re a manager, not a therapist.

Like any model approach it with caution. It’s there to help guide and structure rather than follow religiously (looking at you, Myers-Briggs fans). 

3

Jeremy – a black and white movie star is born

Jeremy – a black and white movie star is born

Lockdown has been a bit weird. I’ve taken to arranging odd photoshoots with random toys and objects. Then there’s my insistence on taking at least one photo a day and sharing it on Twitter as if anyone notices.

Jeremy is different though. This teddy bear is mine and I’ve known him all my life. He’s been with me through thick and thin. So when I needed a bit of inspiration for a Sunday morning creative project, I turned to him.

The result was described by one of my kids as “like Vincent Price”. I’ll take that as a compliment.

4

Statutory Sick Pay vs the minimum wage

Statutory Sick Pay vs the minimum wage

The Coronavirus outbreak in the UK has prompted changes to the way sick pay works. Instead of waiting 3 days before it can be claimed, employees can claim it immediately.

However.

A person on minimum wage working a 40 hour week will see a loss of more than £230 each week. Those earning more will see even greater falls.

It will leave sick and infected people with a difficult decision to make: stay at home for the greater good, or put food on the table and pay rent.

I suspect the latter will win.

5

Rotoscoped yoga

Rotoscoped yoga

I’ve been experimenting with rotoscoping again. This is my latest effort, using a very old and near forgotten image from many years ago.

Rather than going for a pure form of rotoscoping, I’m trying to learn how to be more abstract. Let’s hope I get better over the coming months.

6

Kid on a mobile phone

Kid on a mobile phone

Been reading a book on mid-20th Century Graphic design lately. I like looking back in time, then letting it inspire me to create something new.

This was inspired by some work by Manfred Reiss.

7

The UK’s “Economically Inactive” 8.5 million people

The UK’s “Economically Inactive” 8.5 million people

As the UK launched its new immigration system, Home Secretary Priti Patel came under fire for implying the 8.5 million “economically inactive” Britons could be tapped into by British businesses. The implication was this cohort – approximately 20 percent of the UK’s working age population – could be used to fill the expected shortfall in low-skilled workers.

The Office for National Statistics confirms there were approximately 8.5 million “economically inactive” people in the UK between October and December 2019. However, the term has a specific definition that undermines the Home Secretary’s assertion these people would be ready and willing to fill vacancies caused by the new immigration system.

To be economically inactive, a person has to be:

Aged 16-64 and they have not been actively seeking work within the last four weeks and/or they are unable to start work within the next two weeks.

Headline categories in ONS data include those who are long-term sick, students, looking after a family and the retired. How many of these people would be ready and willing to accept low paid or low skilled work post 2020 is not recorded. Implying there is a potential 8 million strong workforce waiting to step in to jobs is disingenuous at best.

8

London Rising

London Rising

This was going to be the cover image for my report on Insurance Brokers. However, it didn’t work as the usual “Lloyds of London” cliche didn’t come out.

Still, I think it has merit in its own small way. The skyline was drawn out across a photo knocking around, then the strips added afterwards. I used an opaque fill for the skyline – I didn’t want it to block in as that looked rubbish and wasted the stripes.

9

Stock photography: what’s available free and for a fee?

Stock photography: what’s available free and for a fee?

My article on using stock images to liven up your content marketing included references to a few stock libraries. These are sites where you can find images to use, either free of charge or for a small fee. There are pros and cons for each, although generally I’d suggest you limit free images to general blog posts.

I will review and extend this list as I come across more. Being included on it does not imply a recommendation.

Free Stock Libraries

Flickr

Flickr’s been around a long time and been through various incarnations. It has an extensive selection of photographs, although most are not available to use. To find ones you can use, search with the “Creative Commons” filters enabled. Quality is highly variable, primarily because it started as a personal photo-sharing site (think Instagram before it was created). 

Pexels

A free to use stock library where everything is free to use and modify (with some restrictions). The quality appears quite high and varied styles are available.

Unsplash

Unsplash is a free to download stock library with a wide range of available images. All of the images can be downloaded, modified and used for commercial purposes. However, when I have found images that are used widely, they usually trace back to Unsplash. If you want something a bit less common you may be better looking elsewhere.

Paid Stock Libraries

500px 

Chinese owned photo sharing website. You can find free to use images here if you look hard enough, although the search function doesn’t make this easy. Images which need paid licences link off to other sites. Although interesting, I don’t find it particularly useful.

Adobe Stock   

Building off of their creator’s network, Adobe Stock offers a wide range of photographic styles and content. It uses a subscription licence, around £20 a month where up to 10 “standard assets” can be downloaded. Unused assets can be rolled over each month up to a maximum of 120 over 12 months.

Death to Stock

An artist owned co-op which has some quirky and left field imagery on site. The quality is consistently high and has character and personality. Subscriptions start at $12 a month with unlimited downloads. They sometimes release limited numbers of free to use images.

Getty

Comprehensive and long-standing stock library service. Quality is exceptionally high with a price to match. It’s particularly useful if you need time sensitive images around current events, or images of celebrities and personalities. Images can be bought individually and start at £150 for a small size, to over £3,000 for a pack of 10 high resolution images. It could be too expensive for a small business, unless you want to make an impact.

Shutterstock

Long established stock library that has a reputation for quality imagery at a reasonable price.  Prices vary from monthly subscriptions to pre-paid packs to one-off images. Not all uses are covered by their licences, so you may need to check before you make your first purchase.

Which ones do I use?

There are 3 libraries that I tend to use. Flickr is where I’ve sourced images from time to time purely for blog posts. Occasionally I post Creative Commons images there too. Death to Stock and Getty are both sites where I’ve found images for commercial use.

Google Image Search

Just a friendly reminder that Google’s image search is not a place to source images. If you download something from there and put it on your blog expect an invoice or court summons.

10

Fixing “Page Title Not Defined” in Matomo analytics

Fixing “Page Title Not Defined” in Matomo analytics

For months I’ve had “Page Title Not Defined” popping up in my Matomo analytics. I was concerned about the impact is might be having as it seemed to be fairly consistent “1 per day” coming through. Did I have a bug in my site I needed to fix?

The short answer is no.

After a bit of hunting through server logs I found the culprit. I’ve been subjected to daily spamming through my contact form at a fairly regular rate. The spam’s pretty generic – usually someone trying to sell a freelance writer a bunch of essay writing services. It’s annoying but harmless.

Spammers use software which allows them to fire messages into contact forms and supposedly bypass any captcha or other protections in place. A (welcome) side-effect of this is it doesn’t trigger Matomo properly, hence the “Page Title Not Defined” error.

If you do find “Page Title Not Defined” popping up it is worth having a quick check of your site just to make sure you’re not missing a <title> tag in your heading, as this can also cause it. Otherwise double check your server logs for a correlation between contact or comment form spam and the appearance of the warning.

You can then safely discount these from your analysis, which Matomo has probably done already.

11

How I create charts for reports without using Excel

How I create charts for reports without using Excel

After I published my review of mobile product page designs, I had a couple of people ask how I put the charts together in the article. Their working assumption was I’d created them in Excel and they wanted to do the same.

Sorry to disappoint, but while the data was held in Excel and I did use charting to help with some analysis, the charts on the site were all hand-cranked.

I have a few templates for charting and infographics in Affinity Designer. One of these formed the base, although I adjusted it to have a portrait format rather than my usual landscape. It seemed more appropriate given the topic of mobile device design.

Chart template set out in Affinity Designer

The template has its own grid, the base axis for the charts, base bars and text styles defined. Doing this up front makes creating repeating charts that are consistent across a piece a lot quicker and easier.

Working out all the bar lengths would have been a pain in the neck, had I not cracked it a couple of years ago. The bars are created with 1 pixel width representing 1 percentage point. A bar representing 90 percent of something is 90 pixels wide, 50 pixels for 50 percent and so on. At this stage they’re too short, so I resize all the bars together to a more appropriate length. The correct proportions are preserved, the chart is accurate and the design is balanced.

Chart from report on mobile product page design showing the common labels used in call to action buttons

Using this approach it took about 10-15 minutes to get one chart done.

Tip for your own blog: build up a few templates for things like charts that you’ll use quite often. It saves a lot of time when you need to create them, and you’ll get consistency across your blog posts and reports.

You can read my report on mobile web page design here.

12

Exploration of tubes, shapes and colours

Exploration of tubes, shapes and colours

A simple experiment looking at lines, shapes and colours would work together.

I created a simple 3D tube and layered them in a rough curve. What I was interested in was how the ends of the tubes would interact with a background of the same colour.

It’s interesting how the curve seems to break when the top matches the colour of the background.

About Ross A Hall

Business researcher and writer. I help people form and deliver competitive strategies.

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