Introducing Ten Things — my new newsletter

Readability vs creativity, Midsommar, crying at work, and a better way to plan workshop agendas.

I’ve just launched a newsletter — Ten Things — so I thought I’d share the first edition as a blog post. I hope the name explains itself. Once a fortnight I’m going to send an email containing ten Things. Things that I think are interesting, thought-provoking, useful or beautiful. Things from the worlds of content, digital, art, culture and beyond.

You’ll find the first edition below, if you like what you see you can subscribe here.

Thing 1: readability vs creativity

Last week I spoke about brand voice at the CoDes content design meetup alongside Lizzie Bruce from Content Design London, who gave a talk on their brilliant project to create a collaborative set of readability guidelines.

When it was time for questions a few people highlighted a really interesting tension between the two talks; while I was emphasising the need for creativity and to do something different to set your brand apart, Lizzie was providing evidence-based rules to follow to serve your users. To a lot of people listening, it probably felt like a clash in ideology. Pick a side: brand-first vs user-first, marketing vs user experience, creativity vs readability.

But to me there’s no tension. A brilliant brand voice isn’t brilliant if it isn’t readable and accessible to all — so I wrote about it.

Link: Readability vs Creativity: A False Choice? (Medium, 2 min read)

See also: Four facets of a brilliant brand voice (Medium, 7 min read)

Thing 2: evidence-based readability guidelines

My next Thing has to be Content Design London’s Readability Guidelines. The vision for the project is: ‘A collaboratively developed, universal content style guide, based on usability evidence. With guidelines for creating easy to comprehend content, we can design inclusively by default.’

If you’re involved in writing in any way at all, you should be using this (if you aren’t already). It’s packed with brilliant guidelines that will improve your writing.

Link: Readability Guidelines (wiki)

Thing 3: Midsommar

I saw Midsommar — a neo-pagan folk horror from Ari Aster, director of Hereditary — this week and can’t stop thinking about it.

I found myself as obsessed with the incredible production design as I was with the storyline. Aster, production designer Henrik Svensson and costume designer Andrea Flesch created a beautifully disturbing world for the film. The intricate murals, painstaking embroidered costumes, symmetrical staging, shimmering hallucinations and deliberate colour palette seem like the work of obsession. I’m not typically a horror film fan, but this exceptional.

Link: Midsommar explained (LA Times, 5 min read — contains spoilers)

Thing 4: dark pattern or riddle?

This is partly a story about dark patterns in advertising, partly a riddle I’m wondering if you can solve.

Someone in a Slack group I’m part of works for a charity that supports people who’ve experienced rape and sexual assault. They’ve recently heard from people who use their website that they’re seeing ads about related topics on other sites after visiting. This is worrying. For someone using a shared computer or device it could mean they’re unwittingly disclosing something they don’t want to share. For others, it might mean being stalked across the web by ads that remind them of something they’d rather not think about.

The charity isn’t running retargetting ads and they have Google advertising features turned off — as far as they knew, they’d protected their users. It’s one of those dark patterns that raises two questions: how’s it happening, and why hasn’t whoever’s hosting and running the ads considered the damage they might be doing?

See also: 10 types of dark pattern (DarkPatterns.org, 1 min read)

Thing 5: We need to talk about crying at work

This is a very thoughtful essay about crying at work by the excellent Jonathon Coleman.

In it he says: “We should admit that unconscious bias shapes how we see people who cry and then work together to normalize crying no matter people’s gender, race, or status. Most of all, we should stop judging people who cry — and start supporting them.”

Link: We need to talk about crying at work (Medium, 10 min read)

Thing 6: a tool for painless workshop planning

SessionLab is a tool that can help you plan agendas for workshops, meetings, conferences and more.

The beauty of it is that it makes it really easy to keep on top of timings; you can add or remove items from your agenda, increase or decrease the length, and it’ll automatically recalculate your running times. It also keeps track of the things you need, like pens, print-outs, Post-its, sticky dots, etc and gives you a checklist to help make sure nothing is forgotten. If you run a lot of workshops it’s a big time-saver.

Link: SessionLab (free and paid options)

Thing 7: a really useful guide to outcomes, goals and objectives

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I stumbled across this useful, quick reminder of the difference between outcomes, goals and objectives on Twitter recently.

I find the three terms often get used interchangeably even though, when you look at it like this, they’re quite different. Having the definitions straightened out can be very helpful when you’re planning a project.

Credit: Jamie Arnold (Twitter, 1 min read)

Thing 8: Winners Take All

You may already have read Winners Take All by Anand Giridharadas as it’s been out for a while, but I’ve just finished it and it’s still percolating for me.

It’s a scorching take on the role that global elites — businesses, philanthropists, thought leaders — are playing in social change. The main message is that that they’re creating even more inequality as they try to change the world.

I had so many ‘aha’ moments as I read it, and it frequently filled me with rage. Well worth a read if you’re interested in social change or social business. (If nothing else, read the chapter eviscerating McKinsey).

Link: Winners Take All review (Guardian, 5 min read)

Thing 9: It’s Called Ffasiwn

It’s Called Ffasiwn — which was recently on show at Fabrica in Brighton — is a project by photographer Clementine Schneidermann and stylist Charlotte James. They went to a former mining village in South Wales and worked with a group of children to design and make high-concept fashion looks, and shoot them in spreads that look like they’re straight from Vogue.

I love the resulting photos; they’re beautiful, surreal and dreamy. I’m also really inspired by the participatory way that Clementine and Charlotte worked with the children — this is something I aspire to in both my content work and my photography.

Link: It’s Called Ffasiwn (ID, 7 min read)

Thing 10: a secret shipwreck

In my own photography practice, the most recent mini-project I’ve completed is a series of long-exposure shots of a shipwreck near Hastings.

The wreck is the Amsterdam, a Dutch East India Company (the original evil global megacorp) ship that sunk in 1749 after a disastrous journey involving yellow fever, mutiny and finally looting. It was covered by mud until the 1970s, and you can only see it at very low tides now. Getting there on the right day and at the right time was half the challenge for this project!

Link: The Amsterdam Shipwreck (Atlas Obscura, 5 min read)

Thanks for reading! The next edition of Ten Things is out soon — subscribe here.

User-focused content strategist helping clients who make the world better, fairer, more beautiful. Founder of La Pope content consultancy and Curio Conference.