Guest show

#60 James & Per & Jonas fill in forms

Web forms and form analytics. We’re joined (once he’d found the right garden!) by Jonas Arnklint from Stockholm-based start-up Revrise to talk about web forms.

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#58 James & Per & Mattias have beards

We meet up with Mattias Beijmo, founder of Duma and course leader for Web Management at Berghs School of Communication for a chat about beards. After the facial hair chat out of the way we ask Mattias how, back in the 90s, he got into the web branch.

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#56 James and Per at Conversion Jam 3

This podcast is episode 6 of 6 recorded at Conversion Jam 3

Conversion Jam 3 was held recently here in Stockholm. Conversion Jam is a conference for online marketing/ecommerce managers, optimizers and analysts. About 350 people gathered together to spend a day listening to international speakers and a number of interesting cases. We managed to interview four of the speakers – Craig Sullivan, Ton Wesseling, Brian Massey and Nathalie Nahai.

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#55 James & Per & Steve buy beer with Bitcoin

On Obama-day here in Stockholm we were joined by Stephen Early, owner of Individual Pubs in the UK and, earlier this year, became the first pubs in the UK to offer Bitcoin as a payment option.

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#51 James & Per & Brad go future friendly

We’re joined in Episode 51 by mobile web strategist and front-end designer Brad Frost. Brad’s blog posts have featured in a number of UX Podcast link shows, and he’s a bit of an ideological soul-mate of James and Per.

We talk about breaking down silos, standing up and doing things “right”, the importance of consistency, the usefulness of frameworks and style guides – and, of course, Future Friendly.

(Listening time: 45 minutes)


Brad Frost


Per: Hello and welcome to UX Podcast episode 51. You’re listening to me Per Axbom.

James: And me James Royal-Lawson.

Per: It is 51, isn’t it?

James: I reckon so. It says 51 on my notes here.

Per: Excellent.

James: I know it’s going to be difficult for you because you’re jetlagged.

Per: I am extremely jetlagged and I’ve had like an excellent vacation. But I had the worst ending to it with the travels back to Sweden and I must say it took us almost 40 hours to get from Detroit to Stockholm.

James: I was following your adventures on Facebook. It didn’t look fun.

Per: Yeah, it was insane. First, the flight was delayed hour after hour after hour and then finally then it was actually cancelled and the whole family had to sleep on the airport floor and spend the whole day at the airport again and then leave again in the afternoon.

James: But I’m so impressed that your luggage arrived.

Per: I am too actually, because we were rebooked on different flights all over all the time but our luggage actually made it at the same time as us to Sweden, so that was really good.

James: Impressive. One thing though Per.

Per: Yeah.

James: You got to be careful. What you need to try and do is not let this be your holiday story.

Per: Very true actually because this actually hooks into what we were talking about last week with these psychology theories that we’re all into these days with the peak-end theory. I was actually thinking about that. So this was the end of the thing and that was the peak of the thing almost. Unusually that’s what basically – mostly remember from it and that’s what you can begin talking about.

James: Yeah, it’s top of mind. It’s the most recent memory. It’s the most recent adventure during your holiday. So someone asks you how your holiday was, you say it was fantastic but you might be going home. Exactly what you did when I asked you how it was.

Per: Yeah, exactly but that’s also the fun part to talk about sort of.

James: Yeah. Hold on. That must be episode 52 or something. This is episode 51 and in this episode we’re going to be talking to Brad Frost.

Per: Yes, we are. Excellent.

James: Yeah.

Per: And we have Brad also on the last show. We talked about one of his articles.

James: Yeah, we talked about his articles.

Per: And then we had some contact with him on Twitter and you thought it was a good idea to interview him. I thought as well and he thought as well.

James: Well, let’s ring him then.

View the full transcript

Per: All right. Let’s go for it.

James: Yeah.


Brad: Hello.

Per: Hello Brad.

James: Hello there.

Brad: Hey, how are you?

Per: Hey. We’re fine.

Brad: Can you hear me alright?

Per: I hear you great.

James: I can hear you Brad. Yeah, I can hear you Brad.

Brad: Perfect. I just got a new sort of like recording set up for music and so I’m using that and this is like my first time playing around with it.

James: Oh, that’s really nice of you. Are you going to give us a song as well Brad?


Per: Excellent. I’m actually cooped up in my bedroom because the kids are outside playing Xbox in the living room and that would be too loud.

Brad: Nice.

James: I’m actually in my office which is in the house in the garden. My kids are cooped up in the cellar, playing Skylanders.

Brad: Nice. My kid or should I say my dog is outside and I’m actually – if you want to hold on just like a couple of seconds, I forgot I left him out there. So I got to bring him back in. Hang on one second.

James: Sure.


Per: So waiting for Brad to get his dog.

Brad: All right. I’m back.

Per: That’s OK.

Brad: My dog Ziggy, I love him but whenever I’m at my computer, so he will come up and just sort of claw at me and he’s like hey, you shouldn’t be on your computer right now. You need to be paying attention to me. So I’m like oh, maybe you need to go outside.

Per: Oh, wow.

James: Brad, I got a friend who does a podcast and he has Basset Hounds and they really love being in and around when he’s doing his podcast.

Per: Oh, wow.

Brad: Yeah.

James: And drooly.

Brad: Yeah.

Per: So excellent that you wanted to be on the show.

Brad: Yeah.

Per: We don’t know yet what we will be talking about. We had some ideas of talking about future friendliness. But let’s, I mean you’re based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Brad: Yeah.

Per: And I had to check sort of. That’s like 250 miles west of New York or four hundred kilometres.

Brad: Yes.

Per: Yeah.

Brad: So it would basically take you around six, six and a half hours or something to drive home, maybe between five and half and six and a half hours to drive west, pretty much straight west.

Per: Right.

Brad: From New York, which I did a lot because actually up until last year, I was living in New York City.

Per: Oh, OK.

Brad: Yeah. So I was there for five years and actually Pittsburgh is home and so I’m sort of moving back home, which I’m really happy with that decision.

Per: So based on the quick research we’ve done about you, we think alike very much. Both James and I follow your blog and I think we’ve – I mean last time wasn’t the first time we talked about one of your posts.

So given that we’re very similar, I was trying to think about a subject for us to talk about and I was looking through the front page of your website and very similar subjects but the one that caught my mind or caught my eye rather was the future friendly as one of your services where you actually say something about offering future friendliness. I‘m going to try and bring it up here actually because I had it before.

“In order to deal with tomorrow’s diversity, we must acknowledge and embrace unpredictability as well as think and behave in a future friendly way.”

Just embracing unpredictability and behaving in a future friendly way, that seems like kind of a hard thing to do and I think that’s something we all come across. How long have you been doing UX work or do you even call yourself a UX designer?

Brad: Yeah, actually I do even though I’m technically a developer. I actually sort of get into these little battles with people about stuff like that just because I get really annoyed whenever people try to silo our disciplines into these very neat, tidy buckets.

James: Yeah.

Brad: So the UX designer is technically historically like an information architect or somebody like that. The agency I worked at, they called them interaction designers but they were basically just making PDFs all day. They were making wireframes in InDesign, like that. That’s not really interaction and then you have visual designer is like oh, you’re just the people that are colouring the lines and oh, developers. You’re just these techy blah. I especially hate the developer role or title because really it’s just we “creative” people will be over here doing all this fancy thinking and stuff and you’re just going to be the little monkey that actually hooks it all up and makes it work and stuff.

So that has been the story of my career has been trying to fight against that sort of developer only as this person that you call into a meeting to just say, “Yes, this is feasible. No, this isn’t feasible. Yes, this is feasible. No, this isn’t feasible,” and like seriously that’s how it works.

James: And I know. I’ve had a very similar time as well. I spent most of my time crossing these bridges and trying to make these silos talk to each other and we actually started the entire podcast just over two years ago and after been at UX Lx and hearing everyone there, just all these UXs complaining about how theirs is the perfect silo and how all the other silos don’t understand them and they just need to listen to – start listening to them.

We thought, my god, with all these silos just sitting there thinking they’re perfect, we’ve got to start crossing them over and really blowing them and …

Brad: Yeah, it’s ridiculous. It’s totally ridiculous but yeah, I consider myself a UX designer even though I’m the person doing like HTML and stuff and CSS. But I’m creating an experience or I’m creating something that a user will experience, right? I’m creating something that someone will interact with and enjoy and whatever and what I’m doing is actually constructing that. So I do think that there is pretty much anyone involved in a project and can call themselves a UX designer.

Per: I like that actually. I mean as long as you’re concerned about what the use of things and what the …

Brad: Well, that’s exactly it. I mean even project managers and stuff and again like I see that a lot or everyone tries so hard to put up these walls and it’s like, “You know what? We should all just be thinking of this.”

Per: You should be thinking about the end product, not what role you’re playing.

Brad: Precisely, precisely.

James: I think there’s also this degree of honesty that we spend – I know a lot of people in different roles spend far too much time not really being honest about what they’re doing and what they’re producing and just getting on with doing it because life is easier if you just produce that code or you do those wireframes or just deliver that document.

Brad: Yeah.

James: And standing up and doing something about it. Now that’s a difficult path to take.

Brad: It is and I like that joke around about how I feel like my career path has basically been a salmon swimming upstream a waterfall process. It’s really difficult to do but basically especially with a lot of sort of like responsive work and just getting people to care about that, it first began with the people earlier in the process in the assembly line.

So the visual designers have to convince them and then go on to convince the information architects and then eventually convince the project managers and stuff and then eventually sitting in front of the clients and stuff.

So it has been a long, hard battle and stuff but yeah, it’s something that we need to do is just convince everyone and help everyone stay on track and I can’t even count the amount of time where I’ve just had stuff thrown over the fence to me, stuff that – like here, you just build this. I’m like this is a terrible idea.

And them I’m like wow, you’re really mean Brad and it’s like no. I mean seriously, how did they get this far? It is because it’s because people want to do their job and nothing more. They don’t want to rock the boat and stuff like that in order to do really good work. I do think that you need to challenge people and you need to really – again like break out of your own discipline in order to work with people that they’re just – it’s not very fun if you’re just sort of sitting in your middle bucket that’s for sure.

James: I quite often, well, half-joke about the fact that every project, every deliverable almost is more of an education project. You have to educate more than deliver.

Brad: Yes.

James: I mean I half-joke about it because it is like that. Every time I stand up and present something or explain something I’m delivering to a client, it’s mostly passing on knowledge rather than implementing a solution because it doesn’t really work unless they’ve really understood why and what you’re doing.

Brad: Absolutely. I mean I would say that that sort of sums up where I’ve been going with my career. It has been moving more into this, “Well, how do I make it really easy to get this point across?” or “How do I make it easy to bundle up all these resources under one roof?” or “How do I demonstrate these patterns in a way that people are going to get them or something?”

It is. It’s all about education because the context of the specific project is going to change but part of where I was at, at the agency I was working for which is R/GA, I was there in New York for a long while, and part of what made my role great was that I wasn’t stuck on one project. I sort of floated between a bunch of them and as a result, I was able to sort of see the common problems, the common sort of road blocks or the common sort of misunderstanding or whatever that people have run into.

What that did was sort of provided me this very bird’s eye perspective of what people are struggling with and as a result, I was able to sort of make resources and make decisions and stuff that extended beyond the scope of just a single project. It wasn’t like I’m just solving the problem that’s right in front of my face. You’re just like, “OK. Well what’s really going on here? What’s the big misconception here?”

So it has been really nice to have that perspective and that has definitely influenced the kind of stuff that I work on.

Per: I think the three of us have had the same type of experience that we have to educate the client all the time and we’re finding new ways to do that and I’m using a lot of sketches and visual presentations nowadays to do exactly the same thing. But it would be nicer if I didn’t have to spend all that time explaining why I’m doing this stuff because often the problem, the basic problem is that the client doesn’t even have an answer to the simple question of why are we doing this.

Brad: Yeah, exactly.

Per: So we have to go back and educate them about their own business, not only about our own work that we do for them, and that’s what’s really surprising to me.

James: Yeah, be business consultants to help them alter their internal organizations first before you can actually produce something.

Brad: No, absolutely. I think that you especially run into that stuff with these – with big brands or something or people that are well, it’s 2013 and so now we have a chunk of money in. So we’re going to redesign our site again and it’s that question of “why” doesn’t get asked often enough.

But yeah, I mean I think there are lots of tools and stuff that we can do to – and just even images. For example, I made an image or a series of three images that I’ve used in a lot of my presentations but I ended up throwing it up on my blog because this for me has saved me so many words and has convinced people and sort of got the point across better than any sort of speech could give. But it’s basically just three images and it says, “This is not the web,” with a picture just like a desktop, old trusty desktop.

Per: Oh, yeah. I’ve seen those pictures.

Brad: Yeah, and it’s like this is the web and it’s like smart phones, dumb phones, ereaders, tablets, like all sorts of stuff and then it’s like this will be the web with like a bunch of question marks and stuff. The whole idea again is that just showing those three images in quick succession is like – it’s like OK, I get it. I get why we’re even in this room talking about why we need to address this or why we’re even talking about responsive design or why we’re talking about what’s next. It’s because things have changed and I get that perceived.

So yeah, just doing like little stuff like that, just like producing a quick series of little images and stuff have gone a long way for me.

James: I think one of the big issues that we’ve got in the entire branch, I mean OK, we’re three guys now talking that have understood. We’re members of the chosen few that understand about performance, responsive design or like “carousels don’t work” or whatever subject one will think about.

But yet, as we’ve just said, lots of places are doing this wrong or their organizations can’t cope with it or they can’t see the forest because of the trees. One of the reasons I think is because it’s so easy to do web stuff and there’s so many businesses out there that their entire product is doing stuff easy without all the care, the attention, the management to detail that we know delivers.

How can we come over that? How can we bridge those two worlds? The quick solution to the company that buys that quick solution and then those of us who know that doesn’t really cut it.

Per: I’ve actually had clients who – well, mostly in the past, mostly in the late 90s, they always had a relative or a niece or a nephew who could do this stuff and my nephew could do this website or whatever. But I’ve actually come across that later on as well when doing campaigns that hire like a student to do some Flash stuff or something like that because it’s much cheaper. As long as you don’t know why you’re doing it, you don’t even care what it costs. You just know they need a Flash presentation.

Brad: Sure, yeah. I think that what you’re talking about is something that’s extremely, extremely important and I see it more and more which is like how do we bridge that world of plug and play, turnkey solutions, the things that all these companies like to sell so much. How do we make tools? How do we make methodologies and stuff like that, that takes a lot of the hard work out of it but still don’t get in the way of you doing really good work properly?

I see a lot of I guess the things that I’m working on now. I’m working on this Pattern Lab thing which is trying to do that, which basically it’s – what it is, is it’s not like a solution. It’s not here’s your website and you could skin it however you want and here’s like all these different components so you could combine them however you want.

The idea is this is more like a framework for like stitching together your own interface. But what I’m really cognizant about in making this tool is not to influence how you want to create your own site.

So all the HTML, all the CSS, all the JavaScript, all the stuff that your website is made of, you still have full control over it. There’s like no dependencies. You could write code as crappy or as great as you want but really all this thing is doing, all my framework is doing, is making it easy for you to sort of stitch together this interface and stitch together, create your own like pattern library and stuff like that. But I see that also with tools like – have you guys seen like Jetstrap?

Per: Well, is that the tool that’s based on Bootstrap but you pull things in? It’s like a site builder but based on Bootstrap, right?

Brad: Right, precisely and so that’s what I like about that is that it’s this very easy, very drag and drop. You double click on the text and you could change the buttons and you could change the size and you could reorder things and stuff but you’re actually manipulating like real HTML ultimately, right?

So it’s very realistic and as far as like getting a quick prototype up and running to show someone here’s what we’re thinking or whatever, like that’s a great idea and what it does is it – so it doesn’t dumb down what’s ultimately being created. You’re not like creating like a drawing of a website. You are actually creating – you’re manipulating an actual website but they have provided this UI for you to sort of quickly and easily drag things on to the screen and reorder them and stuff like that.

So that I think that that’s the kind of thing that I’m getting excited about where it’s like how do we make it easier for people to construct web experiences, to do their wireframes, to do their Java a lot better without having to go through all the tedium of like manual code and every time I want it on another list, I’m going to have to write all that stuff from scratch.

I do like the idea of like giving people like a better starting point but still give people the flexibility and the power to like get under the hood and really do things the way that they want to do them.

Per: I’m really loving Bootstrap these days. I’m using Bootstrap a lot for prototypes and I’m realizing how much – bringing it closer to something that looks like the end product makes it so much easier to communicate both with developers and with the clients, so I’m all for that.

But then there’s always the next step of actually building the site as well and making it optimized and streamlined and whatever and sometimes there are so much belief in that what is the prototype is something that you can just take and just modify a bit and that will be the final product. That’s what I sort of am seeing is the danger in the projects that I’m participating in right now is they don’t see how far we have left because there’s a lot to go and ways to go after that as well.

Brad: Yeah. It’s like wow, it looks like we’re done. Yeah, no, not really. But yeah, and I think that is certainly again something that requires education where it’s – listen, we’re showing you this prototype and stuff like that. Yes, it is working. Yes, we’re showing active states. Yes, we’re able to click from page to page and stuff and that’s so, so much better and more effective than printing out a 90-page PDF of like here’s what your website is going to be with all the annotations that are just so verbose, it’s amazing.

So yeah, like that definitely gets us a lot closer and stuff but then ultimately yes, you have to build the thing for real. But I will take a prototype and an explanation over intentionally dumbing down things on paper just so that whenever we build the thing, we are only building it once, right?

James: And after all this, we’ve got the next phase which is websites need to be run. They have to be taken and lived with after you’ve done a new design, a new skin to it all or bumped it into a new tool.

Brad: Yeah.

James: And that’s often where they start to fall down and fall down rapidly.

Brad: Right.

James: And maybe the frameworks will help us take a little step beyond that as well by standardizing or reusing a lot more. Maybe it will make it slightly easier to maintain sites and keep them running and tweak them instead of rebuilding them.

Brad: Right. Well, so, this is where something where it’s one thing to talk about frameworks as a prototyping tool and stuff and I’m all for that. I do shy away from it for like production builds and stuff just because some of the clients I’ve worked with in the past. Like Nike isn’t going to make like a Bootstrap site for like your site.

You know what I mean? But Dave Rupert had this great post talking about responsive deliverables and he worked on and he was talking about how we need tiny Bootstraps for every client. So the idea is no longer here are your page templates and I’m going to run away and see you next year or whatever.

The idea is that we now need to deliver these full-on component libraries and commented code and here’s how you use this stuff. Here it is in context and all this and I totally love that idea of yeah, we have to live with these websites and the clients have to live with the websites. The organizations have to live with them and what better way than to actually instead of just throwing them over some final code or whatever, let’s actually deliver them this full-on system that’s nice and extendable.

They could take it, run with it and maintain it and pass it off to different people and everyone will be brought up to speed instead of just this like sort of like black box like OK, here’s your home page. Here’s your contact page. Here’s your check out page like whatever.

We need to get a lot more sophisticated than that. That’s why again the tools that I’m working on now are trying to sort of venture into those waters.

James: I think that’s great and also then we come back into the whole honesty thing again and that organizations themselves need to be honest about whether they can deal with these frameworks and systems and so on that we’re presenting to them. It’s too easy for them to say, “Yeah, yeah, just bring it on. We will do that,” and then they can’t actually cope internally with using it and getting on with it.

Brad: Yeah, yeah.

James: So it would be better for them to say, no, hold on. I think this has stepped too far. So dumb down or go back a step and you’re like OK, well in that case we will do this because we think this is more achievable for you right now and because this is good groundwork that we’re laying. Maybe in a year, we can revisit this a bit and we can take the next step when you’ve matured a bit more organizationally and then we can do the rest.

Brad: Yeah. A post I just posted yesterday was sort of introducing this concept, just to – because a lot of people, again education, they don’t understand that. They don’t just need another design that they need this – to think of things as more like a systematic sort of approach. So I just wrote something called interface inventory and the whole idea is like basically the steps you take to create an interface inventory. So you take whatever your client site is and then just start screenshotting the crap out of it and sort of clumping them into like different buckets and stuff.

So it’s like here’s our button styles and here’s our form styles and here’s our breadcrumbs and here’s our tabs and here’s our accordions and whatever. But basically, you’re deconstructing the interface, the existing interface into like a keynote like presentation or something.

The whole idea is to sort of show a lot of like the inconsistencies that arrive whenever like we just treat things as like pages or whatever or have 17 agencies working on the website or just seven different teams and stuff. It’s staggering like how quickly everything could fall out of whack and I use my bank as an example which is just all over the place. I screenshotted a bunch of their buttons and they have like 100,000 different button styles that are all similar but no two are the same.

James: I think it’s great. It’s a great example of that picture on the blog post.

Brad: Right, right.

James: Makes me laugh but then some people are going to go, “What’s the problem?”

Brad: Right. I think that anybody would – and you would acknowledge that as a problem. But the thing is, is that like you were saying is like from an organizational standpoint. Like this is the kind of stuff that you could put in front of them and say, “Here’s where we’re at.” You could look at this picture of 100 different button styles and realize that yeah, we probably should do something about this. We should probably have some guidelines. We should probably think of things in a more systematic way.

So again, really like something – a tool like this, like a technique like this is more or less just to educate, just to get people on the same page, to convince them that like yeah, we just don’t want to go down yet another redesign path again for no good reason other than you have a little money to spend.

Per: I like that because it sounds like it’s an activity that anyone could get started with quite soon. It doesn’t take a whole lot of time but it’s really enlightening for the whole organization about what’s going on.

But also you would want to create something that perhaps not only the people within the organization could use but that other suppliers could use because that’s a problem I sometimes run into that when I’m hired by a large organization, I don’t get the tools that allow me to access the CSS files and stuff so I can’t create the – I can go visually and look at the stuff and they probably mean like that and I can create something similar but I don’t get the tool set that will help me to actually do it exactly the way they want to or the way they should want to.

Brad: Right.

Per: That’s what you’re really getting to when you’re providing this tool I think.

Brad: Yeah, and I’m working on some other stuff that’s trying to address that too, just because again I’ve worked with a lot of brands. I’ve worked with a lot of different agencies, a lot of different third party vendors, a lot of different – but even just internally, people come and go and they take the knowledge with them. They know where the latest files are and stuff like that. It’s amazing how much of an ordeal it is just to even get like a PSD or just to get a style guide or just to get – it’s like locked up in like final underscore version two, underscore for print, underscore for printer, underscore version two dot PDF and it’s like oh yeah, it’s in page 14 of that. Everybody knows that.

It’s just it’s amazing like how disorganized these organizations could be and so I think that in order to do really sound work, web work and stuff especially, with these organizations that are just so big, you need those guidelines. You need those starter PSDs. You need those component libraries in order for you to know what you’re working with, how things should be done, but also to get an idea of like where you might be able to like bend rules.

I see a lot of this like systematic design and style guides and stuff like that not as like here’s exactly how you do things all the time. But rather as like a good baseline of like here’s where we’re at. We do have some flexibility hopefully to like do some really innovative things and stuff. You shouldn’t only be limited to what we have in our style guide or a pattern library or whatever and just arrange them in a certain way. That’s not terribly fun.

But at the same time like just know the difference between making something intentionally different versus totally unintentionally different. I think it’s a really important point to get across.

James: I think it’s – you can’t start too soon or too small with this. I mean even if you’re a small organization. One thing I’ve done over the years with small clients who maybe just want to work a site with a standard template, I make sure – I encourage and educate them about keeping track of their little style guide even if they don’t have an official style guide or brand guidelines. I mean most of them have some kind of logo or there’s a font they use generally or there’s some type of colours that they’ve chosen.

So I make sure I kind of get them to write up somewhere. That’s a hex code for your colour. This is roughly what we do with the logo and how much space we’re going to use and help them understand that when you open that Twitter account, maybe you’re not doing it now but you’re going to open it up. Then choose this colour as the background colour or get used to picking that colour so you get some consistency because the amount of these small clients, they – you see quite a lot that they will have like 5000 shades of red …

Brad: Oh, definitely.

James: It’s red and they don’t really understand how you – be consistent, so small and large. It’s never wasted time to kind of have a central place where you keep the details to help you be consistent.

Brad: Yeah.

Per: Isn’t this also gentlemen actually a nice segue into future friendliness, that this is actually the baseline for making it future friendly? Have something in place – yeah, you don’t want to really spend time on all this. I mean the amount of time you spend and actually trying to find those documents but the version 2 underscore 3.6. That’s time that could be spent doing so much more things that would be better for the user experience.

But it’s actually having the baseline of something that is a guide. Then regardless of technology in the future, you would go back to the guide, and see how that fits and how you could actually develop that with the future technology that is existent whenever.

Brad: Right, exactly. I think that this is – a lot of the stuff reflects the fact that you can’t control the technology landscape. You just can’t.

Per: Yeah.

Brad: And nobody knows where it’s going to go and then so really the basic question is like, “Well, what can you control?” Well, you can control your own stuff and so this is what we’re doing. We’re trying to make it easier for people to control their own stuff, to have a better idea of what the organization is, what it does, who they’re trying to reach because those things aren’t going to change hopefully. I mean like your audience and stuff might over time but like – but today, it’s iOS apps. Today’s it’s Android apps. Today it’s a standard website and really who knows what sort of stuff we’re going to be making just a couple of years from now.

But having that inventory, having that strong sense of like this is our red and this is our tone of voice, I’m sure you guys have seen like voice and tone by MailChimp.

Per: Yeah.

Brad: Yeah. Just having that sort of stuff today just absolutely prepares you for whatever is in store.

Per: I think that’s really important to stress touching upon there. Like it’s not only style but it’s also like microcopy, the little – how you stay say stuff, how the error messages should be presented.

Brad: But even just – again, like what is our company. What does it stand for? What are our values? What are our things? It’s like it is. It’s amazing how many people don’t have that stuff in place. It’s crazy.

James: But I’ve said to a few clients recently, well, every single webpage needs to have a goal and they go, “What? Every one?” Yeah, because why is it there? But that’s just too difficult. Yeah, no, it’s not easy.

Per: How else can we measure? Well, we measure whatever how many people visit the site. Yeah.

James: Well, I think it’s probably time for us to wrap us, isn’t it Per?

Per: I think so. There is one question I have for Brad and that has to do with his avatar because I was really curious about it. Is there a story behind the space helmet?

Brad: Yeah.

Per: Because I know that Luke Wroblewski has a space helmet. So I guess is there a meme going on here that I don’t know about?

Brad: Yeah. So a few of us got together outside of Nashville around the Breaking Development Conference. This is now almost a two years ago I think but it was basically a bunch of people that all care about the web and sort of where things are going and all these different mobile devices and stuff like that.

So we all got together to discuss these things in this house and the result of that sort of little retreat was the future-friendly manifesto which is online now, which is …

James: All right. All the names. All the undersigns.

Brad: Yeah, yeah. So what ended up happening, the story of the helmet is that at this house, it just happened to be this astronaut helmet there.

James: Just happened to be?!

Brad: Yeah, I know. It’s just it’s pretty – yeah, it’s pretty fortuitous there but yeah, so that sort of became the de facto sort of like icon for the whole thing which was pretty appropriate because we ended up calling it Future Friendly. So yes, so that’s why Luke and Jeremy Keith and a few others had their space helmet avatars.

We actually just created a United Pixelworkers future-friendly helmet t-shirt and all the proceeds are going to to helping them back up the internet.

Per: Nice. I had no idea about this.

Brad: Yeah.

James: That’s something we have to buy Per.

Per: Yeah.

Brad: Yeah, but yeah, so that’s the story behind it and I really like it. I like having my professional headshot be a – picture of me in a helmet.

James: I think most of us got a little astronaut somewhere inside us.

Brad: Oh, yeah, absolutely. But that’s what I do. I love that about being future friendly is that it is something that I think a lot of people can just understand whenever I explain it to clients or I can explain it to other people. They’re like oh yeah, that makes sense. Expect that things are going to change and make things as friendly for whatever is coming down the pipes. Like that makes perfect sense. I do. I love that. It’s pretty accessible.

Per: Excellent.

James: Excellent.

Per: Excellent note to end on as well.

Brad: Cool. Yeah. Well, thanks for having me.

Per: Oh, thank you for giving us your time.

Brad: Yeah, it’s no problem.

James: I think we could have you on every week.

Per: Yes. I think so as well.

Brad: Well, feel free to give me a call in a couple of weeks. I will be happy to do it.

Per: Great. What time is it over there?

Brad: It is 11:11 on July 11. Wow, I just looked it up in my computer.

Per: Oh, wow.

Brad: It’s like ultimate wish making stuff right there.

James: A binary end.

Brad: Yeah.

Per: OK. Then have a good lunch and we will let you know when we post the show.

Brad: OK. All right. Sounds like a plan.

Per: Yeah.

James: Thanks very much Brad.

Per: Thank you.

Brad: All right. Hey, thanks a lot guys. Take care.

Per: You too.

James: Take care.

Brad: Bye-bye.


Per: Excellent. I think that was great talking to Brad and that was so funny about the story about the helmets because I sort of wanted to start off talking about future friendliness. We talked about so much other stuff and then all of a sudden, the helmets had something to do with future friendliness which was really quite funny.

James: We had a half hour intro to what you wanted to talk about.

Per: Yes. I think so.

James: I think we did quite alright there and not turning into a love-fest because what we realized is that Brad is on the same track as us.

Per: Yeah.

James: He has got a lot of same ideas, understanding and hopes and dreams about what we can do in this wonderful world of web and digital. He sits a little bit more on the developer side than us.

Per: Yeah.

James: Which is an excellent insight.

Per: Exactly.

James: Additional insight.

Per: And a concept of anyone calling themselves a UX designer. I like that actually. That’s what has happened. I mean there are a few of us who call ourselves a UX designer that actually have any sort of formal education.

James: We touched up on the whole title of UX, didn’t we a few episodes ago? That’s one of the things we basically came to conclusion on that. It doesn’t really exist, does it? We’re all doing UX to a degree. We’re just doing other things under the umbrella of UX. When it boils down to it, we all just need to get along.

Per: I think so.

James: To quote Jack Nicholson from …

Per: From what movie?

James: Why can’t we all just get along?

Per: OK. So the next challenge is for us to record the next episode while you’re away on vacation.

James: Yeah, I think I’m going to be out of the country next time.

Per: Yeah.

James: We been assured we’ve got internet so we will – well, hopefully that will work.

Per: It usually does in some way.

James: It’s all sticky-tape and string anyway. We’ll work it out.

Per: Yes. OK. I think I heard your kids shouting in the background.

James: I think they’re still on the property. I can still hear them so they’re not too far away. Well, I’m going to go and salvage them from whatever mischief they’re getting up to while I’m recording this with you.

Per: OK. Excellent. To our listeners, remember to keep moving.

James: And see you on the other side.

Hide the transcript

#49 James & Per accept your terms and conditions

On the back of the NSA Prism revelations, we’re joined by Pär Lannerö to talk about internet privacy and the complicated world of terms and conditions. How can we make them more simple and manageable? How can we tip the balance back in favour of the individual?

Unknown to us, Per’s microphone was broken. So at some points we’ve had to rely on the sound picked up by James and Pär’s microphones. Sorry about that!

(Listening time: 45 minutes)



 Per: Hello and welcome to episode 49 of UX Podcast. You’re listening to Per Axbom.

James: And me James Royal-Lawson.

Per: And today it’s a lovely weather outside actually.

James: It is.

Per: We’re set in the Swedish Post and Telecom Authority Office because we have a guest today.

View the full transcript

James: Not because we’ve just broken in or …

Per: No. You might think that. We’re actually three consultants sitting here in like a cafeteria or a sofa area.

James: Yeah.

Per: And James, what’s the topic we were going to talk about today?

James: We’re not going to tell you.

Per: Oh, OK.

James: That was terrible. That was really bad. Privacy.

Per: OK.

James: A little bit kind of inspired by the whole PRISM disclosure just last week. The American government has been prying on all our things and what we say and what we do and emails and everything.

Per: So the PRISM surveillance program.

James: Yeah.

Per: That we really don’t know a lot about.

James: Well, we’re not completely sure about everything. A lot of rumours and as usual, these kinds of things, a lot of rumours and speculation but it …

Per: Yeah. You have the idea that we should bring in the guest because we don’t know a lot about this stuff.

James: Well, it’s not our …

Per: We immediately thought of somebody who had – on our list for a while now, Pär Lannerö who sometimes tweets about privacy issues and so you’re quite active in this discussion as well and you’re Plannero on Twitter and I always thought that had something to do with you being a planner or something and then I realized, “Oh my god! No, it’s his name.” So welcome to the show Pär.

Pär: Thank you very much.

Per: I imagine you’re a consultant as well.

Pär: Yes.

Per: And you founded it and you’re a consultant for a company called MetaMatrix.

Pär: That’s true.

Per: So tell us a bit about what type of work you do.

Pär: Well, I’ve been an internet consultant for the last 14 years, I think, since we founded the company. I’m doing 14 years of internet work. You get to try out lots of different things. So I’ve been a teacher. I’ve been a programmer. I’ve been writing market surveys and doing user studies and all kinds of things. But everything has been circling around the web and recently it has been a bit more about privacy and especially about contracts on the web.

Per: OK.

Pär: You know, the documents that you never read, the terms of service and the privacy policy.

James: You just click and go, “Yeah! I’ll have that.”

Pär: Yeah. Somebody said there are two human constructions that can be seen from outer space. Do you know which ones?

Per: Well, the Wall of China I’m going to guess. Yeah, yeah.

Pär: That’s one of them. The other one is the terms of service of some website because it’s so long.

Per: Excellent. So I mean that’s usually a common usability issue that we talk about is having to click in that box and saying that you agreed to the terms and I watch people do this and I see them never ever reading this stuff. Then all of a sudden, somebody comes out and well, there’s the scoop. Oh my god! They have this in the privacy terms and there’s media coverage around it and everybody is outraged and they sign petitions and they join Facebook groups and we didn’t know about this. Why are people so surprised? They obviously checked the box that said they read the privacy terms.

James: I think one of the first large scale examples I can remember of that was when a few years ago now where suddenly everyone was worried that Facebook was going to use their photos in adverts because they had introduced their check box somewhere that basically allowed this to be used for that.

Per: Right.

James: So it was a massive storm, people closing Facebook with accounts left, right and centre trying to protect their pictures. It does happen constantly.

Per: Yeah.

James: It scares.

Per: So your project Pär is sort of an attempt to solve this problem, I think.

Pär: Yes. Actually a dozen or so projects around the world that try to solve this problem which we call the biggest lie on the web and the biggest lie of course is yes, I have read and agreed because you haven’t read.

Per: Yeah.

Pär: There’s especially one project in Germany I think that’s called ToS;DR. Have you ever seen the abbreviation TL;DR?

James: TL;DR?

Pär: TL;DR. It means too long, didn’t read.

James: Right.

Pär: Then some people from Germany started this project called ToS;DR which means terms of service, didn’t read.

Per: Right.

Pär: And they are trying to solve this problem by having people – they have a crowdsourcing project. They try to get people to put grades on different website’s terms. So for example, Facebook may get a C because they have some good terms and they have some bad terms and overall it’s a C. Google maybe gets a B because they are doing pretty good efforts to have good terms. Facebook are trying. They are also trying.

I don’t remember the actual grades but this project is nice because they have crowdsourced the evaluation of the terms and then they produce browser plug-ins so that once you reach a website, if there is a grade, you will see it. It’s signed somewhere in the browser periphery. So you know if there’s an F grade. You should be …

James: You should actually bother to read the terms and conditions.

Pär: Yeah. But if it’s an A or B, then it’s probably fine because some people have looked at it and they said it’s OK.

James: You’re not selling all of your soul to the devil.

Pär: Exactly.

James: Just a little bit of it so it’s OK.

Pär: Exactly. So that is one nice approach and my project is a little different.

Per: Well I must say where that approach actually fails is having to install the browser plug-in because I mean how many people are going to actually do that.

James: I would say it’s low.

Pär: You’re right but you have to start somewhere and …

Per: Oh, absolutely.

Pär: If the browser plug-in turns out to be very efficient and well working, then maybe some of the browser manufacturers will include it from scratch.

Per: Yeah, that’s a good point.

James: You have to think about the way that the privacy certificates have evolved over the recent years.

Per: Oh, yeah, the SSL certificates.

James: Yeah.

Per: Locks and stuff.

James: Yeah. I mean I don’t completely agree of all the implementations of it but that’s an example of something which effectively started out as a kind of like a plug-in and has become a mainstream feature by visualizing, “Is the certificate valid or broken or are we secure or not?”

Per: Right.

James: So there’s a chance I guess I think. It could become mainstream.

Pär: Anyway, I really applaud this project ToS;DR but I also have my own project which I run not alone but with the help of some friends and people around the world. It’s called Common Terms, We have a slightly different approach. We let the website owner or the lawyer working for the websites make a self-declaration so they produce a one-screen summary of the most important parts of their terms and then we have a proposal for a standardized layout of this one-screen summary and a method for selecting the most important stuff. From maybe 20 pages, you have to extract one page.

Per: Yeah.

Pär: So there must be a standardized way of how do you select which ones to display and how do you formulate so that it’s consistent between websites because the idea is that people should start to feel familiar with the presentation and recognize the formulations so that they don’t need to read everything all over again.

Per: Right.

James: Kind of like semantic terms and conditions.

Pär: Yeah, standardized formulations. So we have a database of common terms. That’s where we got our name and this database we created by a detailed study of 22 agreements that we found on different websites both the big ones and representatives for smaller ones and we found some 450 different terms and we selected from those 450 maybe 30 that we think are more important for the user before signing up. As a basis for this selection, we use the EU recommendation for consumer protection. There’s an old document that enumerates all kinds of terms that users should be wary about.

Per: OK.

Pär: And that’s on consumer agreement.

James: Yeah.

Pär: In the US there is a similar thing called the FIPs, the fair information principles. I don’t remember the exact words but it’s a set of recommendations for how privacy information should be presented.

Per: OK.

Pär: What aspect of privacy should be presented and those have been in use for 20 years, I think. They can be used as guidance for what terms should be in the one-screen preview. So I’ve been working on this project for two and a half years and we received funding several times from Internet Fonden which is the Swedish Internet Infrastructure Foundation.

So we’ve been able to put some effort and some – we’ve been able to keep going for more than a year and many of these projects, they get some ideas and they start working and they find out oh, this is really tough. I can’t do it. So after a few months, they drop it. But thanks to the Internet Fonden we’ve been able to keep working and I’m now leading an international email list of other projects that have the same goal. It’s called and we have also regular teleconference to discuss and to coordinate and that’s where I’m at, with the guys at ToS;DR for example. There are few other projects as well.

For example, there is a project from a New York start-up called Docracy. They are harvesting terms and conditions from websites and extracting differences. So, if they get it every week and if there’s a change from one week to the other.

James: Ah they monitor a particular site but you say OK, one is Facebook. I mean alarm bells ring when they notice some wordings change somewhere.

Pär: Yeah. If something changed, you wouldn’t get to notice.

James: Right, yeah.

Pär: And there’s an API to their service and the EFF, Electronic Frontier Foundation. They have a similar service. It’s called TOSBack. So that’s yet another approach and there are even more projects trying to solve this. For example Youluh is a project that tries …

Per: Makes me think of my kids running around yelling, “Yolo!” right now. You only live once.

Pär: Oh, right. That’s when we’re reading it. When you download software, you have to accept the ULA.


Pär: That’s very much the same problem because you don’t read that either.

James: Again you don’t have much choice. It’s like the whole Facebook thing.

Per: And it’s the same thing. It’s also always at the end. You already filled in a lot of information. You’re not going to stop there.

James: You’ve had a need. You’ve realized that, I don’t know, you need to buy Photoshop because you’ve got a project where you have to use Photoshop. When you got to the point of actually buying it, you’ve got a manager to sign off on funding it to actually get it and so on. You’re not just going to suddenly start reading it. Oh gosh. Should I run this through our legal department? Should I actually say yes before I download this and actually install this?

Pär: It’s not reasonably.

James: No, it’s not going to happen. No, it’s the same with Facebook. Now with the penetration of Facebook, a lot of people now are not going to say – they’re not going to click no to the terms and conditions when they’ve decided to sign up for Facebook and 99 percent of their friends are on Facebook. It’s never going to happen.

Pär: That’s right. So you don’t have a choice and still you’re forced to lie.

James: You’re bullied into accepting the terms and conditions on their terms without any negotiation.

Per: But you’re right. It’s a lie because you’re not accepting the terms. You’re just checking the box really because you don’t accept them. You don’t know what they are.

James: You’re doing a mechanical – you’re just mechanically clicking something.

Per: But it seems like there are a lot of projects then working with this. What are the big challenges of actually going from these ideas to widespread adoption?

Pär: Before starting this recording, you mentioned a website called 500px and they made a pretty nice attempt at simplifying their terms by having a two-column layout where the left column includes all the traditional terms and legalese and the right column contains just bullet points with simple phrases.

Per: If you go to UX Conference, I mean that slide is bound to come up with that example actually.

James: It did. It actually came up at UX Lx with one of the things I went to. One of the complaints there was that when you have all the simple text at the side, taking away from the legalese, why can’t we just get rid of the legalese and make it even simpler and just have the simple text that you have read maybe and have agreed to.

Pär: Unfortunately, it’s not doable because lawyers do have a right to exist and they do have a very important function.

Per: They’re people too.

Pär: When there’s a conflict, sometimes you need an agreement that will stipulate what should be done and lawyers are trained to phrase this very, very precisely and sometimes it’s not precise but it’s still very – it’s not by chance that they formulate them the way they do.

Per: To me it always sounds like they do this because they need a job.

Pär: Well, yeah, they do but …

Per: But there is motivation for it.

Pär: There’s a very long tradition of contract writing …

James: Exactly, yeah, this long tradition. I think here it’s an example again of how we’ve scaled with the advent of the internet and the adoption of thousands of services. I mean most of us now have a hundred or so apps on our phone and God knows how many business software, computers and everything we’ve agreed to. We’ve gone from a time not so long ago where you maybe have signed a few contracts in your life. Maybe a job contract, house contract and maybe a few of the services and things but that was pretty much it whereas now, we’re accepting contacts and signing contracts effectively on a daily basis.

Pär: Oh, yeah. There was a study saying that you must spend 76 working days per year if you’re supposed to read all of those contracts in full and still you wouldn’t probably understand everything. So yes, you’re agreeing to a lot. Where was I?


Pär: Yeah, the 500px, they did a nice try. They put a simplified version in the right column and there was a long discussion. I think it was on Y Combinator or Reddit. Someplace, there was a discussion regarding what side is going to hold in court. Which side are the judges going to look at? The answer seems to be that whatever side, the simple one or the complete one, that is most generous or in the interest of the consumer will be the one that the court will look at and say this one is valid. So it’s impossible to have …

Per: So basically you have two agreements and the one that’s more generous to the user will actually be the one …

James: Go back to what I said. If you do get rid of the complicated one and the simple one, then the simple one does win.

Per: It’s not just a simplification. It actually changes the terms.

Pär: Yeah.

Per: Yeah.

Pär: It seems to be impossible to have a contract that is simpler than what they already have in the long ones because the simpler one will win over the complicated one and the interpretation, because it’s simpler, is going to be less specific and the court will judge in the direction that is most …

James: Lenient, yeah to the …

Pär: Yeah. So that is not protecting the owner of the service.


James: The way we got there, you can’t read – so you got two things on the same page then of course you’re accepting the page and the simple one has gone to it. It makes complete sense, yeah. So maybe you should get someone to outsource it, get someone to write an independent translation of it [Indiscernible].

Pär: But I guess since there is a big problem here, a usability problem and the legal problem, I guess in legal philosophy you’re supposed to have the meeting of minds whenever you have the contract. That is the people who agree they should understand what they’re reading because you don’t have that meeting of minds today.

James: Quite a few contracts have been thrown out I believe in the past where there hasn’t been …

Pär: Sometimes the contracts are deemed as not valid because there was no meeting of minds.

Per: Oh, really?

Pär: But sometimes, well, you actually write that off when you tick the box so that signifies that you – you say you have read it so you’re accountable to this if you had read it. So it’s usually they hold but philosophically it’s not good from a legal standpoint and from a usability standpoint. It’s not really good because users don’t know the rules. People spend a lot of time on Facebook and they don’t know if the rules – they spend a lot of time in the country and they usually have some idea of what laws are governing the life in this country. But when they spend so much time in Facebook, they don’t have a clue what rules apply.

Per: That’s a very good point.

James: It was a very good point. We also have the problem that people think still that they’re speaking in closed rooms. Like now. Once upon a time, us three would sit here and we would have a private conversation and we were pretty sure that it was private. People have transferred this way of thinking onto the internet and a place like Facebook and they’re at times quite confident that they’re talking to just their friends or just a subset of their friends.

Per: So it’s a maturity issue basically then that you don’t realize that …

James: I think it’s maturity and also complexity because we’ve seen examples – often it’s sports people for a bizarre reason where they’ve written something defamatory or even maybe racist or something and they publish it to their friends on Facebook and then maybe somehow their privacy settings have been altered so they made it public. That causes …


Per: … somebody was able to share it.

James: Exactly. Someone shared it. They don’t realize that it doesn’t stop inside the original room.

Per: That was what happened to Mark Zuckerberg’s sister.

James: Yes, the picture, the – it was a Thanksgiving kitchen picture. That’s exactly what they – yeah. That was Twitter though, wasn’t it?

Per: Maybe it started on Twitter. No, it was Facebook.

James: It was Facebook but it was published on Twitter. It said, “I’m not sure you’re wanting to publish that.” Yeah. So again, we’ve lost the walls but you think the walls are still there.

Pär: And they’re moving.

James: And they’re moving for you and they can move because there are bugs in software that we’ve all suffered from. Again I’m going to talk about Facebook because it’s just so ubiquitous. You go to the app and you notice that the privacy settings in the app are public but you can be sure that you’ve had them set to something more restrictive on the web version and they’ve changed. They’ve crashed or whichever and altered each other quite a few times for me and for lots of other people I know.

Per: Over the next few years, we’re moving into an area or a time when people actually have wearable cameras taking photos all the time. I mean from there to microphones on all the time. We’re already getting reports that it’s easy to bug phones and actually turn on the microphone and listen to it from a distance. So I mean the privacy issues we’re talking about that we’re not aware of on Facebook, they’re going to have to apply in the real world as soon as well actually.

James: In addition to this, we’ve got the privacy settings that we think we’re aware of but we know that there are possibilities to restrict the viewing of content. But we take it once step further to our maturity or knowledge of it all. We don’t really quite yet understand just how permanent a lot of digital artefacts we produce are. Once you’ve produced something digitally, it’s incredibly easy for that to be left somewhere or to be copied or to remain after you’ve deleted something or closed something down.

Before we could burn – we could rip up contracts. We could burn them in the fire afterwards, the classic thing you see on films where someone rips that up and then the Hollywood thing of throwing in the fire and the flames and it’s all done. The moment is gone. Whereas oh, with PRSIM and with other things, you can see that data can be reconstructed and pieced together again reasonably simply and …

Pär: The contracts that we have today are accepted once and then it’s always there. There’s no negotiation really. But have you heard of CRM systems?

Per: Customer relationship management. Yes.

Pär: Did you ever hear about VRM systems?

Per: No.

Pär: That’s vendor relationship management.

James: All right.

Pär: The providers of services usually have CRM systems because they want to manage their customers but we should really have vendor management systems.

James: Turn it around, flip it.

Pär: Vendor relationship management because we should be able to manage our vendors and have a track record of did they behave well. What interaction have I had with them? There’s a project called the VRM project that is developing tools for vendor relationship management.

Per: OK.

Pär: And that includes contracts. So whenever you accept the contract, you download it or maybe you upload it to a cloud service of your own and when you go back to them, you can maybe point to that contract which you have already and if they change something, you will be able to tell them and there will be tools for negotiation in the VRM project as well.


Per: … also with the grading of the different terms of service. So it’s more of a crowdsource solution where people have together actually evaluated the terms of service that are out there instead of – in that sense are actually pushing on the vendors to actually shape up and do something about it.

James: You’re right. I mean we touched upon this kind of thinking with profiles and with all the settings, privacy settings. A lot of these situations should be flipped and we should sit in the centre as individuals. Banking, we haven’t talked about this at all. All my finance stuff, I would like to have – I’m the centre of it all. Why can’t I decide what I pull in and pull out?

Per: I want to visit like the pension management company and financial services and the stock management behind the bank.

James: Yeah. Well not to go there …

Per: It’s all my money and I want it in the same place.

James: So in future years, we have to be the centre and focus on a lot of these things to make it manageable.

Per: I mean thinking about it, how many of these terms of service did our like parents have to approve each week? I mean I approve one of these terms of service every week now because I try out some of the new services all the time. I mean it’s unheard of, the history of having to agree to so much stuff all the time. It’s a huge new problem.

James: Yeah.

Per: That’s why you don’t have the meeting of minds and next you’re just copying and pasting it and producing new stuff all the time.

James: So we’re using terms of conditions history going back decades and decades of tweaking and these certain paragraphs, exactly how they work for a non-digital world and then kind of cramming them into the last 15, 20 years of the digital world and trying to get them to work. Does anyone – has there been any cases where someone’s – taken some terms and conditions to court and tried getting them thrown out on a usability front. We’ve seen plenty of dodgy terms and conditions, the dark methods, dark patterns with hiding checkboxes and getting them to agree to stuff without giving them a chance to read stuff. Has anyone managed to throw out terms and conditions because of the bad usability?

Pär: There is something called clickwrap. You probably know and there’s also something called browse wrap which means you are accepting the agreement by just reading the page. There may be a notice down somewhere on the bottom of the page and I think browse wrap can be considered non-valid contracts by a court. But clickwrap usually applies. It’s valid.

But sometimes when people are – there’s a conflict and they go to court. They will say that well, I didn’t really understand this or I didn’t expect this and in a few cases, you can get the contract reverted and usability could be one of the grounds for that decision because you didn’t really have a chance to read it somehow.

But many times, the court says no, it’s valid. You really did check the box and well, checking the box usually is something that you’re conscious of doing. If the box was pre-checked, probably that would mean it’s not valid because then you could theoretically have missed it and just clicked the next button. If it’s not pre-checked, then I think it will hold.

James: It’s also the onas is on the developers to make sure that their projects and sites work on absolutely every single potential device that can display those terms and conditions. There are other situations where I’ve been using slightly odd devices where things haven’t displayed properly because they only will be checking the box and go forward but maybe I haven’t been able to read everything because I couldn’t scroll the page. I couldn’t zoom in on something.

Per: Or the font is too small but it’s also interesting if you have an error message. You don’t check the box. You click OK and there’s an error message and depending on what the error message says, that could probably deem it irrelevant if it says you have to click the box and it doesn’t say anything about the agreement and it just says we have to click the box. OK. I have to click the box and then continue not realizing that that also means that I have to agree with the terms that I haven’t actually read.

James: We have to make all this simpler from a language point of view and a usability point of view because it’s just not feasible to expect every generation of person from minors up to silver surfers and all the generations to understand and manage all of these different situations.

Pär: It’s not obvious that you have to read everything. You shouldn’t really be forced to read. You don’t read the full collection of laws but you’re still expected to follow the law. You can use brands that you trust and usually companies with the brand will behave.

James: They generally don’t do evil.

Pär: Yeah, but in the digital world, the investment that companies need to make to put up a website is so small that there’s really not a big brand to protect when you’re new. It is when you are new that lots of people are expected to read those terms because when you are new, that’s when you try out the service especially if you’re like Per who is trying out every new service. So you try them when they are new and when they are new, they don’t have a brand to protect. They don’t have an investment to protect. So they can really misbehave so it’s not very easy to say. Should you read everything? Maybe not.

Per: But also on the point that I’m actually talking to you and I’m realizing I signed up for all these services and I’ve checked the box and maybe in the services it says I agree to all updates of this agreement. It’s just floating around out there and they have all my data and all of a sudden they just take the agreements to say that they can share that data with other people. It just doesn’t matter because at some point in time, I actually said yes to that.

James: Yeah, we’re very bad at tidying up after us. Digitally.

Per: Yeah.

Pär: When they hide things in these agreements, the most common naughty thing they are hiding is exactly that. Yes, we can change the terms anytime and you’re expected to accept it silently. That’s the most common known accepted thing.

Per: That’s really scary.

Pär: In the 22 agreements that I studied in close detail, I think I found it in seven or so.

James: Oh, god, that’s a high percentage.

Pär: Yeah. Well, you shouldn’t quote me on that figure but …


Pär: So that is probably the most common bad thing but then there are some funny things as well. For example, some of these documents, they contain a paragraph that said, “Congratulations. You read every sentence until this one and this one says you will get monetary reward if you just send an email to this email address.” So few people are reading that they can afford to give $1000 to everybody who sends an email, so that has happened.

Per: Oh, that’s an excellent incentive to actually start reading this.

James: But that again surely could be used against them because if you end up in a court case about those terms and conditions and you ask them, well, how many people have you actually paid? And they said, “Well, we never paid anyone.” So that maybe would prove because people know that given that incentive, they would actually send email and would get the money.

Pär: But people have gotten money from a company that did this and another company, a game company I think, they said that you are – testament here, what’s that in English?

James: Your will and testament. You mean after you die?

Pär: You’re donating your soul to us if you accept this.

Per: Oh my god.

Pär: So that means in court.

Per: Yeah, exactly.

Pär: I don’t know. So there are all kinds of funny things in these documents when you look at them and there are all kinds of very, very boring things too.

James: That’s the case with the …

Per: That’s what you expect, boring things.

James: Does MailChimp have two versions?

Per: No, I don’t think so.

Pär: MailChimp, yes.

James: I think they do because they have the legalese and then I think to the right, they have the on-brand funny monkey stuff.


Pär: Actually I’m friends with Gregg Bernstein, the UX expert at MailChimp who worked on these terms and conditions for MailChimp the last year. He has been contributing a lot to Common Terms as well. They did a very serious work to simplify their terms but they really had to keep the complicated things for legalese.

James: The Californian-based, the American-based.

Pär: I don’t – he lives in Atlanta, Georgia I think.

James: Either way, it was America. I was thinking about the legal context.

Per: Yeah.

Pär: So they really wanted to simplify but they found that they couldn’t but they did lots of graphical design improvements and they revised the language and they put all these explanations by the side and everything they could to make it accessible.

Per: So the company is trying and they’re putting a lot of money and effort into actually changing this stuff but I mean I would expect that people are still not reading it.

Pär: Probably yes.

Per: It’s sort of built into your body now that you just click that box and get on with it. Something else has to actually change.

James: They’re still not entirely sure that government aren’t allowed to just override all this and read it anywhere. We have data that’s flowing between countries because it’s not necessarily – the data centre is not necessarily within country as the country you sign the agreement in.

Pär: Are you familiar with the Open Source world?

James: Yeah.

Per: Yeah.

Pär: They do have the GPL contract and the GNU less[er] and everything, the Apache contract and BSD contract. That probably amounts to a dozen or two dozen standard contracts and when you have a dozen, it’s actually doable to read them once and for all and learn about them. Then when you stumble upon another software package that you need, you recognize oh, it’s still the GNU contract.

James: Yeah, “that one’s trusted, we like that one”.

Pär: So I think having a bunch of standard contracts is a good idea but for general online services, you cannot have a few standard contracts because they are so diverse. But the idea with Common Terms is that OK, you cannot have a full contract but you can have the building blocks, the clauses or terms. That can have standard formulations for them and then you can have tools that highlight the ones that you really should care about.

Per: Right.

Pär: So it’s a very big challenge to get this working but we are still working on it and we think maybe in a few years’ time, it can be useful for most websites.

Per: I like that approach of actually piecing it together, some things that people recognize. Then you’re struggling with a paragraph and you realize, yeah, that’s the paragraph that I recognize from over here. As long as I know that it’s taken from the standard set …

Pär: If you have your own storage with things that you have accepted before, then you can automatically highlight OK, this new contract contains only these three bullet points that I have not yet seen. So you can take a stand on those three things.

Per: Exactly.

Pär: So I think things could improve here but it’s not in the interest of the big online giants right now because they’re pretty happy with having people sign up for whatever.

James: We’ve probably got to wrap up I guess now.

Per: We’re wrapping up, absolutely. We took a lot of your time here Pär but I appreciate that.

James: With terms and conditions and privacy, I love these things. We’re really pushing tradition – well, old mechanisms to the absolute limit. It’s beyond the limit and it can’t cope and we’ve got an awful lot of work to do to help humans deal with the new world of digital because it’s very, very different to how it used to be.

Per: Yeah.

James: We’re a long way away from making this all work from – just from that side of the terms and conditions but also from what I said about the dealing with privacy settings and running your life in the same way you think you’re …


Per: … it’s more than the agreement. It’s actually just understanding this world that you’re now living in.

James: Yeah, it’s going very fast. We can come and get things very quickly and we can sign a lot of things very quickly and government can do a lot of stuff very easily as well as we’ve seen.

Per: So I will definitely start marketing Common Terms to my clients as well. I mean …

James: Yeah.

Per: … a lot of people out there could make use of this.

James: Yeah.

Pär: Probably they will not be able to use it right away but they should look it up.

James: Get awareness.

Per: Or something, yeah.

Pär: Yeah, they should get used to the idea of maybe presenting a summary and maybe contributing to the project by trying it out. But it’s still not mature.

Per: I mean the reason that the 500px example is so good also is because you need good examples. So we need more examples out there of companies doing this as well.

Pär: Just one last thing.

Per: Yeah.

Pär: The 500px really did a nice summary and simplification but their terms aren’t really good. They’re not at all in favour of the user.

Per: Well, that’s an excellent point because that’s so funny because at the UX example …

James: Well, you know that because they made it so simple to understand.

Pär: They got lots of good …

Per: Nobody read the simple one either.

Pär: They got lots of credit for the simple terms but not many people read them and agreed with them. Stated that oh really, these terms are bad but they’re clear.

Per: That’s so funny.

James: That was fair enough.

Per: That’s a good point to end with. So should we finish off on a note? I mean we’re attending a conference in September aren’t we James?

James: We are.

Per: Conversion Jam.

James: Three.

Per: And Conversion Jam 3.

James: Conversion Jam 3, yeah. We were there last year.

Per: We were there last year and so if you’ve been with us for a while, you will remember that we interviewed.

James: Brian Clifton.

Per: Brian Clifton, Craig Sullivan, Annelie Näs.

James: Yeah, and …

Per: Someone else.

James: And Marten.

Per: Angner.

James: Angner.

Per: Right.

James: Yeah.

Per: So good line-up of speakers this year as well with Brian Massey and Nathalie Nahai, Craig Sullivan.

James: Again.

Per: André Morys, Ton Wesseling and John Ekman of Conversionista himself, the conference organizers. So that’s really an excellent conference that we really recommend.

James: And we’ve got something for the listeners.

Per: Oh, yeah, we have something and that’s why we’re mentioning it right now because …

James: I haven’t got the date but I think until the end of this month you can …

Per: Or even June 21st.

James: Oh, yeah. A little bit longer.

Per: In a few weeks’ time you have the cheaper price for it.

James: Yeah, we got a 200 kronor discount code. Really good for you, for anyone in Stockholm, in Sweden and maybe someone else might want to come across from another country and say hello to us while we’re recording some podcasts. So it’s UXPODCAST, capital letters, according to the info I’ve got here.

Per: Yeah. We don’t know how picky they are.

James: No, but UX Podcast, capital letters, would give you 200 kronor off the Conversion Jam 3 ticket which is – is it the 10th of September Per?

Per: 10th of September in Stockholm, so great chance to come and meet us as well of course.

James: Yeah, forget all the speakers! They’re not relevant. It’s us you want to see. Oh, yes.

Per: So thank you again Pär Lannerö for doing this with us today.

Pär: Thanks.

Per: I learned a lot.

James: Yeah, I learned a lot as well.

Per: And I’m off on vacation now.

James: Good for you. I’m not.

Per: Some of the upcoming episodes I think where actually I’m going to have to do it over Skype. I’m going to be in Michigan.

James: We haven’t synchronized our calendars properly. So you’re going on three weeks holiday and then I’m going on two weeks holiday straight after that. So I think we’ve got at least two episodes where we’re going to be Skype-ing across the world.

Per: Yeah, because we, actually our effort is still in there to actually still do biweekly but biweekly episode meaning two episodes every month. We just had an argument over …

James: It’s my job to confuse everyone.

Per: What biweekly really means.

James: Twice a month, we have UX podcast and we’re recording it all the way through the summer for your listening pleasure because we love you all so much.

Per: And everybody is just dying to hear more from us. OK. But remember to keep moving.

James: And see you on the other side.

Hide transcript

#46 James & Per & Chris

This podcast is episode 6 of 7 recorded at UXLx 2013

In the bar of the Tryp Oriente at the end of day 2 of  UXLx 2013 we settle down with a  beer and reflect on the conference so far together with Chris McCann. What themes have we noticed? how were the 4th workshops? and how did Per’s Eliminate Design lightning talk go down?

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#45 James & Per & Luke

This podcast is episode 5 of 7 recorded at UXLx 2013

It’s just before lunch on day 2 of UXLx 2013 and we were lucky enough to grab a few minutes of Luke Wroblewski‘s time right after his morning workshop Organizing Mobile Web Experiences. We chat about device proliferation, device ergonomics and some of the other challenges heading our way.

(Listening time 13 minutes)



#44 James & Per & Jeff

This podcast is episode 4 of 7 recorded at UXLx 2013

It’s the end of the first day of UXLx 2013 and we grab a few minutes just before they lock up the venue for the night to chat to Mr Lean UX, Jeff Gothelf.

We had a little problem with the sound during this show, some echo and hiss appeared from nowhere. Sorry!

(Listening time 12 minutes)


#42 James & Per & Bruno

This podcast is episode 2 of 7 recorded at UXLx 2013

We are in Lisbon, Portugal for UXLx 2013. Today we travelled down from Stockholm via Frankfurt and spent the pre-conference evening tasting some wine and mingling with other delegates. To finish off the day, we were joined by Bruno Figueiredo, the organiser and curator of UXLx. We talk to him about the conference and about the UX scene in Portugal.

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#39 James & Per and the 1%

Jesper Åström joined us in Episode 39 for a chat at Clarion Sign Hotel in Stockholm. Jesper is is currently writing a series of 100 guest blog posts in 100 days. A crazy challenge. One of the posts so far was about “workers, commentators and spectators” where Jesper outlined the 1-9-90 method and gave some examples.
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#37 James & Per make a deposit

Brett King, banking disruptor and founder of mobile-based Moven bank joins us for a chat from a restaurant in Santa Monica, California. Retail banking is about to be disrupted. There no way of avoiding of stopping that. Can existing banks survice? Can new banks establish themselves? and big a role will UX will play in the upcoming shake-up?

(Listening time 43 minutes)



Episode 34: James and Per get educated

Recorded at Web Service Award 2013 in Stockholm, Sweden. We talk to Judith Wolst, course co-ordinator for Interactive Communication at Bergs School of Communication, about educating the digital stars of the future. We also grabbed a few minutes with one of this year’s students, Diago Fria, who gives an insight into what they are learning and what they hope to acheive.

(Listening time: 22 minutes)


Episode 32: James and Per scream – Stupid bloody system!

James and Per bring you episode 32 of UX Podcast from a bar in Stockholm. We’re are joined by Jonas Söderström, author of Jävla skitsystem (Stupid bloody system) and “the Swede that comes closest to the title of web usability guru”. We talk about poorly designed digital systems and the work related stress this causes. Where did it all go wrong? How do we fix it? Can we fix it?

(Listening time: 28 minutes)


Episode 31: Per and James give infographics wings

In episode 31 of UX Podcast James and Per are joined by Derek Featherstone from Simply Accessible to talk about infographics and how we can make them more accessible. We say “everything that needs to be said” and cover some of the challenges, types of accessibility problems, downsides of making infographics accessible, and share some practical tips.

Read More