#69 James & Per & The Dirt Show

UX Podcast in Sweden stretches across 6000km of Atlantic ocean to join up with The Dirt Show in Boston for a crossover show. James and Per from UX Podcast along with Steve, Mark and Tim from The Dirt Show quiz each other about how UX and web development in the US and Europe. We field questions to each other about accessibility, browser and device compatibility, cookie laws, research and testing budgets – plus we finishing off with a discussion about scientific versus emotional approaches to UX.

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#66 James & Per stunt UX

A Link show. James and Per discuss three recent articles found during their digital travels. Has information architecture been hindered by the rise of user experience? What is user experience? and finally how do you make sure that users don’t accidentally delete things?

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#63 James & Per recommend podcasts

Whilst sat around an open fire drinking sherry and wearing Santa hats, James and Per record a podcast about podcasts. In this meta-show we explain how podcasts help us in our work. What is it that makes us like a podcast? What kind of challenges do podcaster face in producing awesome shows? Finally we recommend a bunch of podcasts that we listen to and explain why you should give them a try.

Pour yourself a glass of something nice and enjoy the last UX Podcast show of 2013.

(Listening time: 49 minutes)


#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.

We talk to Steve about why he decided to start offering Bitcoin payments, how the user experience is for everyone involved (Steve, staff & punters) as well as what makes a successful payment system. How can you beat the simplicity of cash?

(Listening time: 50 minutes)



Per: Hello and welcome to episode 55 of UX Podcast. You’re listening to me Per Axbom.

James: And me James Royal-Lawson.

Per: It’s Obama Day.

James: It’s Obama Day. “What’s that?” you all ask. Is it international? Do we all celebrate it?

Per: Wow.

James: Do we put Obama-masks on and run around and pretend to be the presidents of the United States of America?

Per: No. Barack Obama, the president of the United States is now in Sweden, in Stockholm. Now he has just arrived from the airport I think.

James: Yeah, about an hour ago.

View the full transcript

Per: Yeah.

James: Now for the American listeners out there, this is probably very interesting because what happens when the president of the United States comes to your city as we found out today is they close your city down basically.

Per: Yes, everything is closed. I mean it would have been impossible for me to like take the car or the bike into town today.

James: Yeah. The shops and everything are open of course, we don’t mean like that but they’ve closed off a huge amount of roads in town, all the way to town and that and airports and things just so the president and all these hundreds of people can …

Per: Right. So I do believe a lot of people in Stockholm are actually working from home today.

James: Looking at the traffic this morning, then yes.

Per: And the few people sitting outside. We’re sat in a hotel lobby near Medborgarplatsen if anyone should know where that is.

James: I actually biked here.

Per: Oh, yeah. How very fit you are.

James: Oh, well no, but I just live this side of the road. It wasn’t too much effort.

Per: And I hope the sound – well, the surrounding sound is pretty OK I can think. We’re testing the new Zoom H6 for sound as well.

James: Oh, you can write about that on our kit page.

Per: Yes. Finally I think I’m actually satisfied with this kit we’re using so I’m going to write about it on our blog.

James: Well, today is episode 55.

Per: Yes, it is.

James: And we are going to talk about bitcoin. Well actually, we’re going to talk a little bit about payments and the user experience of payments and ease of payments and when you want to buy something. You did a talk last week…

Per: Yes, I did for politicians and organizations and like municipalities in another part of Sweden actually and diving into that subject of payment systems, I realized that this is going off the charts, the number of different payment systems we have, what’s happening. You think they’re making them more useful. You would assume them to be making them more useful but like paying for parking, we talked about that previously.

James: It’s so irritating at times.

Per: It’s insane.

James: It doesn’t work when you check out unfortunately for me earlier in the week and ended up making three phone calls.

Per: So I’ve gone back to cash for paying parking because I pay in seconds but it takes minutes if you pay with cards.

James: That’s exactly what I felt on Monday when I had that problem with that payment. The car park machine and I was thinking, oh no, I really need to start using money again for these because it’s easier. The user experience and the convenience of cash in those situations is still simple.

I mean I generally avoid a lot of these payment systems or an offer because they’re still too complicated. I want something that is easier than the existing one, that’s easier than my card, my Visa card or my chip and pin…

Per: Exactly, it has to be easier.

James: Or easier than cash.

Per: Yeah

James: It has got to be easier than those two.

Per: Or it has to offer some sort of significant advantage over everything else.

James: Oh yeah, it has to be really a significant advantage. Up to now everything is quite irritating or annoying or doesn’t – there’s something which makes it complicated.

Per: I also have the example of – I mean if you’re wanting to travel by public transport on buses in Sweden now, if you go to different towns, it’s a different payment system.

James: You need to register in different …

Per: Yeah, you have a different – you register beforehand. Actually at a Örebro where I was, thinking you could pay with credit card on the bus but not a lot of places offer that. So basically when you travel in Sweden, you would have no idea how you’re going to use the bus and you have to research beforehand and install apps and it’s a nightmare.

James: Which is a huge problem for users, for people trying to use public transport. But I know as well that – you may be even interested how you maybe pay for a bus trip as an individual. I have some friends across earlier in the – from England and suddenly I was in a situation where I knew how I could use the bus. But I had actually no idea how they could use the bus.

Per: Exactly, yeah.

James: And you were learning intensely. Like I learned that you could pay for the metro here with – we could pay several people’s journeys with one travel card.

Per: I heard that as well now. Yeah.

James: But what I also learned from that trip is you can’t on the buses.

Per: Really?

James: So they managed to pay for a valid journey for two people and they took the train and then we took the bus and ended up somewhere near the coast.

Per: Yeah.

James: And then we wanted to come back but they couldn’t do the same type of transaction on the way back because the bus wouldn’t – it couldn’t – the bus couldn’t. There were multi-person transactions on one travel card. You had to have personal individual travel cards.

Per: So, yeah, so people aren’t just getting frustrated. They’re getting stranded.

James: Effectively. Yeah, bus driver was nice. You better leave – understood the problem that we’ve gotten out there using preferably legitimate payments and systems but couldn’t get back using the same method.

Per: Oh, man.

James: So what we’re going to do is we’re going to ring up …

Per: We should mention something about bitcoin as well I think because it’s a difficult concept to grasp for a lot of people. We will be talking about bitcoin today because the man we’re ringing up is accepting bitcoins in his pubs.

James: Yeah, as a form of payment.

Per: And bitcoin is – you’ve probably seen it in the news. If you’re listening to our podcast, I’m guessing you’re sort of aware of it but if you Google it, it’s called a …

James: Decentralized currency.

Per: Virtual crypto currency and it’s called crypto currency because it’s sort of secure actually.

James: It’s based on public key transactions …

Per: Yeah, like encrypted email if you’ve ever used that. It’s sort of the same thing. You have a key and an unlock key.

James: But at the same time, it’s a little bit torrent like – in that it’s peer to peer. It’s peerless so there’s no central place, bitcoin.

Per: Exactly, yeah.

James: They float around. These transactions float around. These coins float around in an internet-based system.

Per: Yeah, there’s no owner of …

James: You can tell I’m not really an expert on bitcoin.

Per: No, I’m not either but there’s no central bank or central system. It’s just it’s floating around out there. It’s like cash. It’s floating around and you can pay securely.

James: But it’s the most widely adopted digital currency at the moment.

Per: Yes, it is.

James: That’s basically all we really need to know going into the conversation because we want to know more about the usability or the user experience out of this. We’re going to ring up an old friend of mine called Stephen Early and he runs a small chain of pubs in England. There are five of them now.

Per: Yeah.

James: And just before the summer or in June, he hit the news by the fact that he became the first pub in the UK to accept bitcoins and Wired and Guardian, quite a lot of UK media organizations picked up on this story and he got a lot of publicity and it became quite a topic. So it has died down a bit now and we thought it was probably a good time to bring up the topic and talk to him. He can reflect back on it. We can learn a bit about his experience and more about why and how it works.

Per: Let’s call him up.

James: Let’s call him.


James: Hello Steve.

Stephen: Hello.

James: Hello there.

Per: Hello.

James: Welcome to UX Podcast.

Per: So Stephen, where are you sitting? This is Per Axbom speaking.

Stephen: Hi. I’m just in Cambridge at the moment. I’m visiting just to go through the books of the pub, the same as I do at the start of every month.

Per: Oh, OK.

James: Hi Steve, I’m James Royal-Lawson but you know that because …

Per: Yeah, give us a background. How do you guys know each other?

James: I will give you a little bit of background because listen to the show. If you know the theme tune to our show then that’s composed and created by Daniel Pugh who me, Daniel and Steve in the early 90s used to be in a band together. So 20 years ago. That’s how old we are Steve.

Per: So is there a soundtrack we can listen to?

James: I’ve got them all in MP3s. Dan didn’t – he wanted to get a hold of them and do some kind of reprocessing of them before I let them loose everywhere.

Per: Excuses, excuses.

James: Yeah, there are always excuses. But I would like to set them all free. It was really good fun and we did some really good stuff by then.

Stephen: It would take another 20 years.

James: I’m guessing about that. But me and Steve actually grew up in the same village.

Per: OK.

James: Kirk Ella in Hull, in England. And back in the day, you were a computer – you were very interested in computers like I was and we spent hours doing lots of geeky computer stuff in the 80s and 90s. Steve went on to do computer science. But then you got a little bit bored of it, didn’t you Steve?

Stephen: I certainly took a different direction, yes. Ten or eleven years ago, I started running pubs.

James: Which I think is an excellent move.

Per: Yeah, from computers to pubs. I mean they mix perfectly.

James: But what I like though is of course you can’t take the computer geekery away.

Per: Yes.

James: And I think you’ve done some great stuff that proves that Steve.

Stephen: Yes. Around – well, after we’ve been running pubs for a year or two, we found that we had certain problems, things like stock control. We were using tills that have just been bought off the shelf and they only really looked after the money and they didn’t have any kind of stock control feature. So I looked around in the marketplace, wondering if anyone could sell me anything sensible and the answer turned out to be no, not really. Not a kind of sensible price. So I took a lot of evenings and wrote system and we’ve been using it ever since.

Per: That’s amazing actually.

James: Yeah, the combination though of entrepreneurship of running your own pubs and then being capable of just throwing together a stock control and till system.

Per: So if we searched for your name and bitcoin now in Google, there are lots of articles popping up about how you’re accepting bitcoin.

Stephen: Yes. I have to say it has been my best ever accidental publicity campaign.

Per: Yeah, I can imagine.

Stephen: This is something I knocked it together in a couple of days, I didn’t expect it to be a big deal but then once it appeared on Reddit, lots of people became very interested and I spent about two weeks solid talking to the media about it. I didn’t expect it but not unwelcome.

James: No, all publicity is good publicity especially when it’s positive publicity.

Per: Yeah. Now why is it do you think that everyone became so interested?

Stephen: I think because – well, I wasn’t the first company to start accepting bitcoin. There are places in Germany. There are places in America. I think I was the first company to actually integrate it properly with the till system. Everybody else seems to be using a phone or a tablet or something like that just to go to a website and take payments effectively manually. Mine was the first system that actually had it properly built into tills.

James: So what was the back story to the decision to kind of – OK, I’m going to spend a few evenings now knocking together a bitcoin payment system?

Stephen: It was a combination of different sorts of things. I heard about bitcoin fairly early on. Thought that was interesting. Back in 2011, I think that it had had its first bubble and the bubble that burst and I bought some bitcoins on one of the early UK exchanges. I think I spent about 100 pounds and then 20 bitcoins and the moment I bought them, the price started dropping and dropping and dropping. Let’s forget about this for now. Yeah, it started moving and then I looked earlier on this year and suddenly realized, hang on a minute, there was that two grand. That’s not bad for 100 pounds investment …

James: Good grief.

Stephen: But there’s still nothing to spend them on. So it’s partly, so that would be something to spend bitcoins on. Partly it was due to frustration over taking cards. So we’ve been taking credit and debit cards pretty much ever since we opened.

James: Right.

Stephen: We have card terminals which are rented from the card service provider.

James: So these are the kind of classic – at least here in Europe, the chip and pin terminals that you kind of get handed to stick your card and pressing the buttons.

Stephen: We have. They’re quite nice. They’re cordless and they support Bluetooth between the handset and the base station to the base station and just plugs into the local Ethernet. They generally work very well. Transactions are nice and fast but the thing that frustrates me about them is that I can’t integrate them properly with the tills. So the workflow for accepting a card payment goes something like this:

Member of staff enters all of the drinks into the till. That happens for every transaction but the till comes up with the total and at this point, what I want to happen is they press the button on the till saying it’s a card payment and the till transmits the transaction total to the card terminal. The terminal goes through the interaction with the customer, to check the payment and so on and then returns a status to the till.

James: Exactly like you would expect in a supermarket.

Per: Yeah.

Stephen: That’s what I want to happen. Unfortunately I can’t because nobody it seems will sell me equipment that can be integrated into a till system like this.

Per: Yeah.

Stephen: So what actually happens is that a member of staff picks up the terminal, copies the total into the terminal by pressing the buttons and deals with the customer. The terminal then prints out a paper receipt. Well two, one for the customer and one for us and then the member of staff has to copy the receipt number back from the receipt into the till. This is a manual process and because it’s manual process, there are errors.

James: Yeah.

Per: Yeah.

James: When you stay Steve, when restaurant and pubs are almost always like that. Then you – everything is keyed in manually.

Per: It is keyed in manually. That’s what causes confusion with the person paying as well because I actually did a talk last week on different payment systems. I was talking about these card readers and sometimes, you as the customer, you yourself have to actually enter the sum or the amount that you want to pay.

Sometimes, the first thing you enter is your pin code and sometimes the first thing you enter is the tip. So you really have to be careful about what you’re entering and several times, I’ve actually entered my pin code when you wanted the amount so it’s right there to see for everyone.

Stephen: Which is definitely an issue.

Per: Yeah. But basically that’s an incentive then for actually – the system is broken and you found a way to actually go around it and solve it, solve payment systems without banks.

Stephen: I wanted to expand with a payment system that could be integrated directly into the till. I realized that it’s not going to be the most popular, the most common payment system but at least it’s there and it’s – building it was satisfying to put it that way.

James: Yeah, it’s s proof of concept.

Stephen: When there’s a bitcoin payment, what happens is the drinks get on the till as they always do. The member of staff presses the “pay by bitcoin” button. The till flashes up a QR code which the customer then points their phone at.

The QR code incurs a bitcoin address and amount so that’s the value of the transaction at today’s exchange rate with bitcoin and as well as application in the phone sends the appropriate number of bitcoins to that address. This is essentially – a bitcoin appears to be a broadcast network essentially. So they just create the transaction, throw it into the air and eventually it gets through the till and eventually it’s normally within a couple of seconds.

James: All right. So it’s not like they have to wait three minutes before you let them loose with their three pints of beer and glass of wine.

Stephen: So generally it works very well. They will just send a button on their phone and the till will go, “Oh yeah, we got that. Thank you very much.”

James: One advantage there I can imagine with just bitcoin is bitcoin is not one of those things – I don’t think people are going to suddenly spontaneously go, “Oh, you know what? I think I will try Bitcoin as a payment mechanism.” You’re going to come into the pub already a user of bitcoin or an owner of bitcoins.

So in that sense, you get rid of the whole hurdles in the beginning to kind of install a certain app and register yourself, transfers the money across to – whatever it is you have to do.

Per: Unless you haven’t started already or probably a person like myself I haven’t started with bitcoin but seeing this in a pub, I probably would want to get started.

James: It would spark your curiosity off.

Stephen: It is quite a visual way of paying because people see these QR codes being flashed. Yeah, what’s that? So there has definitely been some interest from people just watching this go through.

James: Have you had any times when there’s like a gang of bitcoin enthusiasts come in and they basically fight over who’s going to pay.

Stephen: We have had bitcoin enthusiasts in the pubs.

Per: Oh, OK.

Stephen: But that wouldn’t be a fight over who’s going to pay, I think.

James: Because you could really get – I mean you get your phone out and scan the code. Then your job is done. You actually can – it’s difficult to stop.

Stephen: There is a certain amount of confusion because it’s all very new. People don’t always understand what’s going on. So for example, we have people who have paid once and then saved the bitcoin address for that transaction into their wallet and then tried to pay again to the same address which of course won’t work because we generate a new address for each transaction so that we can sort out the incoming money between transactions.

James: Yes, you got the audit trail. Yeah.

Stephen: Well, in particular so that we can say that transaction there has been paid and that transaction over there hasn’t been paid yet.

Per: Right.

James: But from a user perspective then, they kind of think, oh well, I want the same round again. I want the same beers again. I will just repay the same amount.

Stephen: Yes, and wallets, they provide certainties for taking addresses because if there’s a particular person who you make payments to, you generally will want to save their address. For one time addresses like individual transactions on the till, that particular interface concept doesn’t work.

Per: Yeah.

James: OK.

Stephen: There have been some other difficulties as well. So we encode the amount to pay in bitcoin in the QR code. We have had people try and work it out themselves. They get the address to pay to from the QR code but then they override the amount and they use the exchange rate, calculate the bills into their wallet and pay us a completely different amount. So it’s the wrong thing. Generally they will slightly underpay in that case and so the till goes, “Well, we got some of the money but not all of it. Here’s another QR code so that you can pay us the rest.”

James: Oh, god, yeah, yeah. I imagine that’s – yeah, that makes it very difficult with the old transaction bookkeeping there.

Per: So there is no perfect system really.

Stephen: It’s still very young and using it in this way is throwing up ideas for improvement.

Per: Exactly.

James: What kind of tweaks have you made then since you launched it?

Stephen: I have not actually changed what I’m doing since deploying it.

Per: No.

Stephen: The big change is things be that – well, let’s talk about other ways in which it can go wrong.

Per: Oh, yeah.

Stephen: Some people have a wallet from a company called BlockChange.info. It’s a very nice website that lets you see all kinds of things about the bitcoin system. They offer a wallet that works in a web browser and on a phone. It’s has got a very nice user interface. There’s a problem with this which is when you send a transaction with it, it usually doesn’t actually broadcast it over the bitcoin network properly. So their wallets are telling them they’ve paid. The till is telling us that they haven’t and what usually happens is that the transaction rolls in some hours later. But that’s not really great when it’s happening in the bar, is it?

James: No.

Per: Right.

Stephen: And this company has been very unresponsive dealing with bug reports about this. The main difficulty is that they’re the only wallet that actually works on iPhones. Apple tends to block applications that deal with bitcoin from going in the iPhone app store. I think it’s because they really don’t want anything happening on iPhones that they don’t get a cut off.

Per: Exactly.

James: Well, you’re right. They want a cut of every single transaction that went through it.

Stephen: So yeah, iPhone users are a little bit stuck at the moment and this – the fact that we have a wallet saying we paid and the till system saying, “Oh no, you haven’t,” is a user interface problem.

James: Oh, yeah, I can mention some quite interesting discussions.

Stephen: The reason that you can’t have the discrepancies but bitcoin is essentially a push protocol. The sender of the money pushes the transaction out into the network and then essentially that’s it. Their job is done once they’ve sent the transaction and if anything does go wrong, there’s not a lot you can do about it.

There is a newer payment process being developed which actually involves the sender of the money and the merchant in a sort of separate protocol. So in this case, the QR code would encode a web address to go to essentially pick up an invoice and then the wallets would talk to the web server and say here’s the transaction and just hand the transaction over directly.

James: Oh, a bit like kind of the verify your email address links that you get when you register.

Stephen: It’s a little bit like actually handing over a signed check.

Per: Yeah. Oh, yeah.

Stephen: And the merchant can take this transaction and it can fire it off into the bitcoin system and see if it gets picked up and can check its probability against the same copy of the block chain and another thing that can happen there is bitcoin relies on transaction fees, which are paid by the sender.

Well, this is completely the opposite way around to credit and debit cards where the face value of the transaction is paid by the customer and then the merchant later gets a bill for that transaction and with bitcoin, the speed with which your transaction is accepted and processed by the network depends partly on how much transaction fee you’ve included.

The incentives were all wrong here because the customers don’t really have an incentive to include a high transaction fee. They just want the transaction to get through eventually whereas merchants would really like to have it now, thank you very much.

So what this forthcoming payment protocol is going to do is it’s going to let the customer create a zero fee transaction and then the merchant creates a transaction that depends on it which actually pays the fee and then the pair of them will be accepted by the networks and work faster.

I think that is going to be a better way around to do it.

James: As long as it happens seamlessly.

Stephen: The version is the entity that has the – it has the incentive to pay to get the transaction through quickly because that will be receiving money.

James: Yeah, that makes sense. Yeah, it has happened seamlessly. After all, we’re kind of behind the scenes, so it doesn’t make it a more complicated transaction. Yeah.

Per: It is still dependent on a network connection because that’s …

Stephen: Yeah, the sender of the money has to have a network connection.

Per: Because that’s many of the faults of the payment systems today is that you have that connection and sometimes it takes so long for the payment to actually be accepted, whatever network you’re on actually.

One of the solutions that – actually that was proposed in Sweden like 10 years ago, like having a cash card where you actually have your money in cash downloaded onto a card but in this case maybe a phone. Would that be a possibility with something like bitcoin that actually you download a certain amount of bitcoin to your phone and you should be able to pay for it …

Stephen: That’s the way it works, yes.

Per: Yeah.

James: Because you could do it all offline, couldn’t you Steve? I mean you could still generate transactions but you wouldn’t be able to confirm the chain or the blocks or what have you …

Stephen: Yeah, the sending phone has to have some way of getting transaction over to the merchants.

Per: Right.

Stephen: At the moment, I see just done by the phone having a network connection and being able to speak the bitcoin protocol actually. In theory, it could be done with NFC or something like that.

Per: OK.

Stephen: But that hasn’t really been played with much yet.

James: Could you both talk to each other, over WiFis or over NFC, to come to agreement that this is a real transaction or do you have to go out onto the network?

Stephen: At least one of the parties has to have an up-to-date copy of the block chain. Otherwise, you have a very realistic risk of having a double spend transaction attempted which is where person A has got some money and gives it to person B and to person C. Only one of B or C can actually have it and it’s down to the bitcoin network which of these transactions is the real one. I actually take a small risk by accepting unconfirmed transactions for speed. I take a small risk that people will then succeed in a double spend attack against me. None of that so far but I’m just taking the point of view that they’re standing right in front of me. If the till then tells me, “No, the money has vanished,” I can go and take their drinks away.

James: Yeah, exactly, throw them out the pub. Yeah, you spoke about a physical transaction in front of you and we’re not talking about a very long delay anyway before you get a confirmation. You could actually take more of a risk by setting some kind of value level that you say, OK, I’m not going to worry about how long this transaction takes to clear. They can have the drinks because it’s only five pounds.

Stephen: Yeah, so we want to see the unconfirmed transactions that we know that they do at least have the money and they’re sending the transaction into the network and the danger is that they then send another transaction spending that money before the transaction to us is made.

Per: Right, yeah.

James: The sequence.

Stephen: The bitcoin, I don’t know how much you know about how it works but …

Per: Not a whole lot.

Stephen: It solves the double spend protection problem by sort of mixing the solution in with issuing the currency in the first place. So you have these people called miners busily executing a proof of work which is essentially a computation that you have to do over and over and over and over again until eventually it goes, oh, that’s an acceptable solution.

There are rewards for doing this and for producing the next block of transactions in the chain that goes right back to the start of bitcoin. At the moment they get a reward for completing the block. At the moment, the reward keeps going down over time. When bitcoin was new, you got 50 bitcoins each time you came up with a block. That’s now halved. It’s 25 and it will half again and again and again until it’s pretty much zero.

The other thing is that the transactions that you include in the block include fees and if you actually include a block that you solve, you get to keep the fees.

Well, that’s not very significant compared with block order at the moment, but it will become significant in the future.

Per: OK.

Stephen: And so by mixing up the issuing of the currency in the first place and the things that you have to do for double spend protection, I think that’s what made it kind of first viable currency.

Per: Yeah.

James: Lots of phones ringing in the background, Steve.

Stephen: Yes, my parents’ house and they’re away and I’m not going to answer their phone.

Per: Yeah.

James: No, that’s a good choice.

Per: This is your personal account that you’re using for the bitcoin process isn’t it.

Stephen: I’m really suggesting …

Per: Oh, there’s no account. OK. It’s just you as an individual.

James: Because they’re like notes.


Stephen: I didn’t want the pub completely taking a risk on bitcoins. So what I said was the pub company just gets pounds immediately for me and I will hang on to the bitcoins and convert them back into pounds at a later date.

Per: Right.

James: You’ve effectively outsourced the payment system to yourself as a …

Stephen: Yes, I’m effectively working as a bitcoin payment service provider to the pub company.

Per: Does this mean we’re …

Stephen: So there’s a trust relationship between us.

Per: Yeah, exactly because this means more administration. I’m thinking in terms of taxes, is there anything that you have to do in the books to make this happen?

Stephen: In the pub company books, no because the pubs only see pounds and so that just goes in like taking cash or like taking cards.

Per: Right.

Stephen: Just absolutely standard. Another reason for me is that with this way, I really didn’t fancy doing multi-currency accounting in the pub company books.

Per: Exactly, yeah.

James: Especially if one of them isn’t really proper currency in official terms.

Stephen: From a personal point of view, if I make a profit on converting the bitcoins back into pounds which so far I have, it’s capital gain for tax purposes…

Per: Oh, yeah, right.

James: I really like the solution there Steve that you outsource it to yourself because running a pub with all the various taxes and regulations in bookkeeping.

Stephen: I just get to wear a different hat when I’m doing that …

James: I think it’s an excellent idea for how to solve or to keep it simple business-wise. I mean I read that you took – about 750 pounds in the first week or two of launching…

Stephen: Yes, it slowed down a little bit. We’re talking about 1000 pounds a month through bitcoin. It was worth doing but it’s still a very, very small part of our business.

James: Absolutely, but it’s not kind of like one or two transactions a month. That’s obviously for a fair few transactions.

Stephen: It’s actually bursty – you can go for a week without seeing a transaction and then you will have several days with a couple of hundred quid a day.

Per: Yeah.

Stephen: I think it probably depends who’s in town.

James: Exactly. You’ve got five pubs as we’ve said in the beginning, and which one of the pubs has the most bitcoin use and have you noticed …

Stephen: So far the one in Hackney has the most bitcoin use.

James: Right. That’s in London, yeah.

Stephen: Yes.

Per: But it’s sort of like a customer loyalty program for geeks. If you’re a geek, you’re going to go there, right?

Stephen: Yes, I think some people are coming in and doing it for the novelty.

Per: Yeah, exactly.

Stephen: That’s fine. I’m not going to complain.

Per: Yeah.

James: You’re right. It’s …

Stephen: And I think more people are passing through London, then through Cambridge and Norwich and Peterborough.

Per: Oh, yeah, of course.

James: Yeah.

Stephen: Of course from the point of view of someone visiting the country, it’s great because they don’t have to change their money before they spend it.

James: It’s a universal wallet.

Stephen: Same bitcoin that they would use at home and it all just works.

James: There isn’t an exchange rate as such although you – Although you add one I believe …

Stephen: Do you mean the fee or …

James: Yeah, because you don’t know exactly how much you’re going to get.

Stephen: When I started, I was really quite conservative and so because I didn’t know. Essentially I didn’t know how I was going to be turning the bitcoin back into pounds. Before I started, I identified a route, sending the bitcoin to a company called OKPay. They would charge me six percent at that point and they would convert that to pounds and then they would send the pounds back to my UK bank accounts and charge me one percent for doing that. So that was quite a fee-heavy route.

Unfortunately – well, actually fortunately in retrospect, the moment I started accepting bitcoin over the counters, they stopped offering that facility. So I had to go and look for other ways of doing it.

I tried various companies and what I’ve ended up doing is using an exchange called Bitstamp which has pretty low fees. So once I’ve done the conversion back from bitcoin to pounds and identified where the levels of all the fees involved, I was able to improve the exchange rates I’m offering the pubs.

Per: OK.

Stephen: And now there’s a company called BitPay who are a bitcoin merchant service provider who do essentially what I’m doing for the pub company but they will do it for anybody. They published a list of exchange rates on their website, just a JSON API page, and I’m just using that. So I’m just taking the rate, the base over pounds and saying, right, that’s the rate and I’m not charging any other sort of fee.

James: Yeah, because you have to convert the bitcoin to cash because you’ve got to feed some cash into the pubs.

Stephen: Yes, that’s right.

James: You’ve got to find the cash from somewhere.

Stephen: Yes, I can pay 1000 pounds a month for transactions for a little while but ultimately I do need pounds to come back.

James: Yeah, the minute you thought the bitcoins are going to go up in value, then you might want to do that. But …

Stephen: Well, it turns out they have.

James: Exactly. So then there’s a portfolio balance there for you, how much you’ve sold and how much you’ve …

Stephen: I reduce my risk by not holding onto bitcoins that have been spent in the pubs for a very long time or I will hold them for three or four weeks and sell them and they just …

Per: Yeah.

James: Excellent.

Per: Is this something that you would recommend others to try out?

Stephen: It’s always a thing – yeah, do it but don’t do it the way I did it.

James: Oh, that’s interesting.

Stephen: Because I started with a business advantage. I have the till software and so integrating the payments into the till software was just a two-evening hacking job. I would say to the average merchant, don’t do what I’m doing with holding on to bitcoins yourself. Use one of the payment services just like BitPay unless you really fancy taking a risk.

If you just want to include bitcoin payments in your business because you want to make it easier for people to pay you, then use somewhere like BitPay.

If you fancy taking a risk, then sure, just hold on to bitcoins yourself. But don’t come crying to me if the market pops.

Per: Yeah, exactly. I mean most merchants and establishments, I mean they’re going customer loyalty programs and having their own payment systems within a chain of stores. Like Starbucks, I know they have like 30 percent of their payments being done with their Starbucks points or whatever they’re called.

Stephen: Right.

Per: But that’s a very closed environment as well and then what I really love about this is that it could work anywhere.

Stephen: And that only works if you are a big chain.

Per: Exactly, yeah.

James: Yeah. Yeah. So you need to open a few more pubs Steve.

Stephen: I will work on it.

James: So in ten years’ time when you’ve got 50 pubs, then you will have your own loyalty scheme, bitcoin-based …

Per: So I think our conclusion from the UX perspective then is that you really looked at the steps required to pay what – the normal sort of credit card reader compared to bitcoin and you would reduce the steps from something like 12 steps to 4 steps.

Stephen: It’s definitely a better user experience for our staff than taking cards.

Per: Right.

Stephen: Give or take, some of the early teething troubles with customers, we’ve had customers turning up with bitcoin on all sorts of devices that don’t have cameras and can’t scan QR codes. Sometimes we’ve ended up printing out the bitcoin address and having people retype it into their laptop.

Per: Oh, wow.

Stephen: It worked in the end but it’s not a sort of thing which I would like to repeat on a day to day basis.

James: Getting out your laptop in a pub to type in – you’re right. That’s not …

Per: That’s fantastic.

Stephen: People don’t know what to expect. But over time, I think people will get into the swing of it.

James: Do you have any – do you think you might introduce any other alternative payment mechanisms?

Stephen: I have some ideas but I don’t want to pick up – for example, all of these bitcoin alternatives which are essentially the bitcoin protocol with the serial numbers filed off and a minor thing changed because at the moment there is too much – bitcoin was the first viable one and it is still the one with the greatest number of users and the strongest economy. I don’t want to just randomly pick up all of the others because then I would have to deal with all sorts of little fiddly minority currencies myself.

There are also people going around offering things like pound payments, phone to phone, that sort of thing. There’s a company Droplet who have contacted me.

I might consider supporting that kind of thing in the future if they actually have the API that will let me integrate into the tills, to the extent I integrated bitcoin.

James: Exactly, because you don’t want to make the process any more complicated than the business side.

Stephen: So if it’s a suitable API. So for example when I looked at Droplet, they essentially have a tablet and you can just look at the transactions coming in on the screen of the tablets and going, “Yes, we got paid!” No, I’m not going to do that. That’s going to be even worse for our staff than taking that. So I will support them when they have an API that will let that kind of payment be integrated into tills.

James: I mean that’s a really good point Steve for people out there who are thinking of setting up payment systems to …

Stephen: There are lots of them.

James: Get the API sorted, that’s good and …

Per: It’s really important.

James: … people are going …

Stephen: It doesn’t need to be complicated. It’s just that you need to be able to distinguish programmatically between incoming payments for different transactions.

Per: Yeah, yeah.

Stephen: And some people are setting up payment systems where basically there is a code for the whole shop and so people send money to “the shop” and the money is turning up without any indication of what it’s paying for.

James: That’s a nightmare to work out which transactions are which …

Stephen: So you need a little data, possibly even just a transaction number generated by the shop that needs to go through the payment processing system but then pop out the other end with the money and that’s what some of them are missing.

James: All right. Fascinating. It’s not just about – well, making these payments or payment systems work isn’t just about the user who tried to make the payment.

Per: No.

James: There are several layers to this.

Per: Oh, yeah.

James: All need to be …

Per: And this is really about the users, the business and the technology and all mixed in together and that’s what I love about it.

James: Yeah.

Per: And I love what you’re saying also Steve about it’s so much easier for the staff and the staff are users as well of the system.

James: Yeah.

Per: And I’m having …

Stephen: So you have to start with the user interface of the till. The staff is the only users of the system.

James: Hopefully.

Per: That would be great, yeah.

Stephen: People ask me sometimes why I haven’t sold this till system and the reason is that it has got a very nice user interface with the day to day staff but the management interface is still a little bit raw.

The management interface user is me essentially and so to make it usable by other people would require a fair bit more work.

James: And also they would mean that you would have to change your focus to supporting and developing …

Stephen: Yeah, I would end up with a software company rather than pubs.

James: Exactly and you moved away from that track a few years ago, so I understand.

Per: You can sell it to someone else who develops it.

James: Yeah, yeah. Be a founder of a start-up, Steve, another start-up.

Stephen: At this point, it’s a nearly 10-year-old code-base and if I was starting again, I wouldn’t do it quite the same way.

Per: Yeah.

James: As usual.

Stephen: As usual.

James: Well, I think that’s …

Per: Yeah, it has been excellent talking to you Steve and thanks for being with us.

James: Yeah.

Per: I’ve learned a lot. I didn’t know a lot about bitcoin. Yeah.

James: And well, drive safely or enjoy yourself today. Go around the pubs.

Per: Yeah, and have fun going through the books.

James: It’s because it’s very easy now because all the transactions are nicely tied up.

Per: Right, yeah. Yeah.

Stephen: I wish.

James: Excellent. Thanks Steve.

Per: Thanks so much. Bye-bye.

Stephen: Yeah, I will see you again sometime.

Per: Yeah, you too.

James: Bye.

Per: Bye.

Stephen: Bye.


Per: Okey-dokey.

James: Cool.

Per: That was a lot to take in actually.

James: Yeah.

Per: Because I’m sort of still having a hard time wrapping my head around bitcoin and how it works.

James: At the same time, I don’t think we need to.

Per: I realize that we don’t need to.

James: No, actually. I mean this fascinates me here is that we’ve got – finished off towards the end there about the importance of APIs. Not necessarily from a user perspective because I mean we don’t go around playing with APIs.

Per: Well, from a user perspective.

James: Indirectly.

Per: Yeah.

James: For companies to adopt certain things, payment systems for instance, you’ve got to have a good API which allows you to quite simply strap this on to whatever you’ve already got. In Steve’s case, he’s on till system or yeah, the system for taking transactions.

Per: You don’t want more overhead. You don’t want more administration. You don’t want …

James: You don’t want to make it more complicated for your staff. They’re also users and have their own experience to worry about.

Per: Yeah.

James: So that’s interesting and fascinating. Again, yeah, just about the different levels of user experience, that Steve as a business owner is a user. He has to deal with the currencies. The staff working his pubs are using user interfaces in the user systems and the people coming in to make a purchase are users of the systems and it has got to be a win – well there’s a balance of wins there between all of these people.

Per: But we did realize as well that there’s a lot of challenges still in being a user of the system and going in and paying because there’s the problem with the apps, with the iPhone apps as well and there’s a problem understanding – well, the lighting as well, scanning the code, understanding how it all works. Has your transaction actually been approved or not? So there was a lot of friction there and not understanding …

James: Also example of a time when you have someone with a device that doesn’t have a camera.

Per: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah, and you had to …

James: Type in the transaction and your laptop isn’t doing it. It’s not the dream perfect scenario …

Per: Right, but I love that he’s testing it and I mean – but to actually be able to challenge, really challenge the other payment systems, you have to make it even more useful for users.

James: Yeah.

Per: It would make the experience better for the users.

James: Reducing the hurdles like always with these sorts of things. We got to make the start-up ramp up in the beginning easier. I think a big challenge here, I hadn’t really thought about this but we had a quick conversation with Steve earlier and one problem he’s highlighted is iPhones and that Apple don’t like payment systems really into their phones because they want a cut of it.

Per: Yeah.

James: And this is actually a bigger hurdle than I had realized for adoption.

Per: It probably is, yes.

James: In some ways we’re saying that payment systems, they’re going to struggle to take off for iPhone until Apple launch something.

Per: I’m surprised nobody has built a web-based app because I mean the web apps can also …

James: We haven’t tried everything in the world.

Per: No, but I thought Steve would have mentioned it but …

James: Yeah.

Per: He seems to know a lot about it. But then there’s always the hurdle of people having iPhones, or novices and not realizing they have to surf the website to pay. So …

James: There’s the wallet issue that you’re going to have your wallet somewhere for bitcoins. So if you’re using a web-based thing, then you got to have a web-based wallet that’s integrated with that web-based payment thing or they actually …

Per: But it’s like you were saying. If you already have bitcoin, then paying with it is a no-brainer.

James: Yeah.

Per: The problem is getting the adoption.

James: And you could argue that same thing with Seqr or any of these kind of transaction systems that we’ve seen is here in Sweden that yeah, when you’ve got the Easy Park, the parking machines. If you’ve already set the app, of course it’s easier but same thing with internet banking here on your mobile. That’s with the bank ID. I’m not going to go and to explain about these but it’s a secure certificate system that you can install in your laptop and mobiles. It’s a pain to set up …

Per: It is.

James: It’s one of the most challenging things I’ve done in recent years.

Per: And people keep saying, “Well, it’s much easier on the mobile,” which I don’t think it is.

James: No, it’s just …

Per: But then you have the problem that I realized after having switched phones two times since I installed it the first time. Moving from phone to phone as well with an ID system is really a big pain.

James: So every two years, you got to do something that’s quite complicated and remember what you did including remembering the same code that you used two years ago. So setting up is a massive, massive hurdle and that is – well, a stumbling point with all these with these kinds of transactions is that cash and Visa or MasterCard and American Express, they’re all so much easier because they’re already now with wallets and they’re already set up.

Per: Yeah.

James: And they’re universal pretty much.

Per: But it can be a pain when the payment takes a long time.

James: Yeah.

Per: And that’s what usually – I have the example when I gave my talk. I stumbled into a store where I was a customer already. I already had the customer loyalty card and apparently they had my home address. They could send me an invoice. I wasn’t aware of this but they asked me if I was a member and I said I didn’t have my card and they said, “Your driver’s license is fine.” Then she asked in the next sentence, “Do you want to pay with this?” and then I realized, “Excellent. I want to pay with my driver’s license. That’s perfect. I just want my driver’s license and that’s all I want.”

Wow, that seems to be where our new Zoom H6 recorder has just cut off our sound from the podcast recording and we don’t know what went wrong right now and we just have to blame the presidential visit I guess. So do let us know what you think about the future of online payment systems is and let us know what you think about the show.

Stay tuned also of course for next week. We will be recording on location at the Conversion Jam Conference and we do have some surprises lined up for you. So do stay tuned. Make sure you follow us on Twitter. We won’t be using the normal feeds next week for publishing. So we will see how that goes. It will be a new thing for us and remember to keep moving.

James: And see you on the other side.

Hide the transcript

#48 James & Per look at users from the inside

After returning from Intranätverk, an intranet conference recently held in Sweden, James shares some reflections. We also talk about user centered design for the digital workplace and how intranets are the “poorer brother” of the world of web. Has the world of intranets finally started to catch up?

(Listening time: 38 minutes)



Per: Hello and welcome to episode 48 of UX Podcast. You’re listening to me, Per Axbom.

James: And me James Royal-Lawson.

Per: And we’re doing this episode over Skype.

James: Yeah.

Per: This morning my bike, my motorbike wouldn’t start and I thought, “OK. I will just take the car,” and the garage door wouldn’t open. The tag – there was something wrong with the tag. So it has just been a crazy morning.

View the full transcript

James: I know. For me as well because we’re doing this about 40 minutes later than we booked or planned.

Per: Yeah.

James: And I was just about – I’ve got guests here so I can’t do – I can’t record it from a normal office, in the office.

Per: Yeah.

James: I was just about to go down and set everything up and I heard my neighbour talking to me, calling me. OK. It’s very unusual that the neighbour starts talking to me at 9 o’clock in the morning because we’re all so busy. We’re doing our morning routines and things.

Per: Yeah.

James: What he had done was he had waved – he tried to kind of wave a wasp away when he was getting into his car and he kind of did that with his hands that he had his house keys in. He managed to fling his house keys.

Per: No way.

James: Into my garden just after he has locked the car or before he got into his car – he locked his house but he now went to his car. So he had to come around and me and him, we’re going through my meadow of dandelions that’s outside of the house searching for his keys. So that delayed me by about 10 minutes as well. We found them.

Per: OK. Cool, good.

James: Bizarre morning though …

Per: Very weird morning.

James: Yeah.

Per: Let’s look back – before we start, we were talking about intranet today. But let’s look back at the event episodes we did for UX Lx. We got some feedback.

James: Yeah, we did a few episodes.

Per: And we got some feedback partly about the intro because we do a lot of episodes – I don’t know. How many did we do? Six or seven?

James: Seven because we did a pre-episode as well.

Per: Right. And you have to listen to the intro every time you listen and we do two a day and you have to listen to the intro over and over again and the feedback we got was that maybe we could shorten it.

James: Yeah, it’s about one minute, fifteen?

Per: Yeah, and we realized that probably is pretty long for any episode.

James: Probably, yeah. So we’re – I’ve chatted to Dan Pugh, or Dan Lo-Fi. He’s the guy who composed and created the theme tune for us. I’ve chatted with him and he says he’s going to do a 45-second version.

Per: Excellent.

James: Which I think is a good compromise.

Per: Yes.

James: We’re going to try. We’re going to iterate you see. We’re going to iterate and try.

Per: Yeah.

James: Yeah. But if you got any more feedback because I – we both like to know what you think of the event format. When we go to these events and do seven episodes, quick succession from the actual – than itself, do you like it? Is it good? Is it interesting? Is there another way maybe you would like us to do that kind of reporting from events? Would you like us to do more events? Would you like us to stop going to events?

Per: Are you organizing an event and want us to be there? Then give us a call.

James: Like it.

Per: Yeah.

James: Yeah. And we will happily come there and cover your event for you.

Per: Yeah.

James: So feedback is good.

Per: It is.

James: It allows us to iterate and improve.

Per: OK. Onwards to today’s topic.

James: Yeah, we’re interested to let everyone know it’s the 30th of May today. We’re very nearly at the end of May which means here in Sweden we’re rapidly approaching – well we’re in the crazy bit before the summer shutdown.

Per: It is. I realize today it’s eight days of school left for my kids, eight school days.

James: I’ve got more than that for mine. Yeah. Lucky me. But I’ve got …

Per: You would think but next week is two days off.

James: Yeah, and both of my kids have their birthdays before school finishes.

Per: Ah! Excellent! You have to organize all these parties.

James: Yeah, after you.

Per: Yeah. Oh my god. My birthday is coming up as well.

James: It is. I only know that because you share your birthday with my son.

Per: Exactly.

James: Yeah. In case people think I’m kind of super memory man and can remember everyone’s birthdays. I can remember two birthdays, maybe three if I include my wife. Anyhow, yeah. Last week, if it wasn’t enough, we’re going to Portugal for UX Lx. I went down to – I went across to Gothenburg for a conference called Intranätverk. How do you translate that Per?

Per: I guess you would – because it doesn’t use the A with the two dots over it so it’s …

James: It does in real. On the hash tag and things, he doesn’t.

Per: OK.

James: And by he …

Per: So it’s a word play. It either means intranet work or intranet pain.

James: Verk.. because we’re kind of like …

Per: Hey.

James: No, I’m thinking more of the industrial metal works. It’s like the …

James: So the intranet works as in the place, the factory where you sort out the internet. You smelt things. You make things, the birthplace of industrial products, that kind of thing. When we say he, we mean Kristian Norling who is the organizer of this conference.

Per: Right.

James: Both Per and I know.

Per: And I hear he did a really good job. I’ve heard a lot of people were really pleased with the conference.

James: It was a really good conference. It was really well-organized. I’m not going to talk too much about the performer itself of the conference but he split it up into two days, three actually because there was a workshop day. The first day was Swedish, Swedish speakers, the whole day of Swedish theme. Then the second day, introduction speakers or rather a mix of Swedish and English but everyone spoke English.

Per: Right.

James: Which mainly caused a Twitter flow on the second day. It was different because it pulled in interest from the internet community at large.

Per: Right. I really like that way of setting it up because in other events, I’ve seen where English speakers and Swedish speakers are mixed up and then you – well, it’s  unfair to the English speakers because they don’t really get what the other people are talking about.

James: No.

Per: And also you attract a lot more international – oh, the international crowd really for attending a full day in Sweden. It’s just really cool.

James: Yeah, you get a lot more attraction on the internet. Well on Twitter and other channels, people …


James: … easier to follow when you’ve got it all in one language for that day. So that’s why I went on to the English day and took a train really early in the morning to Gothenburg.

Per: Yeah. You were just there over the day.

James: I was. I actually missed my train.

Per: No way.

James: Yeah.

Per: You just told me.

James: No, because I’ve been using the Smart Alarm on my UP to wake me up. I know you have too and I really like it. But it just didn’t work. I set kind of one day, alarm just for that one day and I stupidly – because I had to be up for such a specific thing. I should have just sawed the UP and – oh, language. I should have just kind of used the proper alarm, a real alarm for that morning. So I had to rebook last minute.

Per: So the UP we’re talking about is the Jawbone UP armband that we both are using now to record steps and sleep as well.

James: Yeah.

Per: And as alarms then.

James: Yeah, as alarms. We do it – we’re probably going to do a show about that at some point, about quantified self. But anyway, I missed the train and I had to rebook. But I got there. I missed most – I missed all of Sharon O’Dea’s talk about the mobile digital workplace. But I got quite a good chance to talk to her and chat to her. I was reading all the tweets in the train so I got a good feeling with that. But what was really interesting because I’ve been to a few internet conferences and I’ve worked quite a lot over the years with intranet.

Per: I think the last time I talked at an intranet conference was like two or three years ago.

James: No way.

Per: So for me it has been a long time since I’ve actually been in that area and talking about it and really diving into it.

James: Yeah.

Per: I was looking through the slides because I wasn’t there. I was just looking through the slides yesterday. Kristian has been really good about putting them out and he’s putting out some videos of the talks as well.

James: They’re already out. Yeah, he has released them, I think.

Per: Yeah. And I realized that oh my god, nothing has changed. Same old problems. Who’s the owner of the intranet? Yeah, it’s the information department. They only care about shooting out information. They’re not communicating. People have a hard time finding things. They’re swearing over it, stuff like that.

James: Yeah.

Per: And I see all these examples that I’ve been seeing for so many years and I realize, “Well, why is nothing happening?”

James: I think it was a big difference with the Swedish and English there. You’re right. An awful lot of people, it’s still the same old story of intranet and I think a good way of describing this is that you’ve got – if you look at the internet, although the world of web and things we do with web browsers, we’ve got – on one end of the scale, we’ve got ecommerce and the ecommerce side of things, they’re the ones pushing the boundaries. They’re the ones that are doing all the research. They’re doing real – or the products and ecommerce side of things. They’re doing the research and looking at what’s happening. They’re testing. They’re iterating. They’re tweaking and they’re making money.

Then you’ve got the non-transactional services and sites where it all gets a bit more fussy about why we’re doing stuff and a bit more loose about whether we need to do certain things and we don’t test as much. You don’t research as much and have lower budgets and everything.

So they’re in the scale. We’ve got intranet for the poor younger brother and everything. They have least resources, least money. They do least research. They do least of everything and been stuck for several years behind everything else.

That gives you a feeling of what it’s like to work with intranet in many situations. It’s knowing there is a balance.

Per: They’re behind and there’s no incentive really. There’s no monetary incentive which is why they’re left behind of course.

James: Yeah, exactly. It’s like a non-transactional site on the internet. You’ve now got the direct monetary aspect of ecommerce. The joy there is that you see people put things in the baskets and check out and you see the cash coming in. With intranet it’s all derivatives. It’s all – you enable something to happen and become profitable or do their job.

Per: Yeah, people aren’t really measuring the outcomes of intranets.

James: No.

Per: They may be asking how happy they are with it and people may be, “Yeah. OK.” And that’s fine. That’s a fine answer for a lot of people but I mean it has so much potential to be so much more as a tool in people’s everyday work.

James: Yeah. I mean just looking whether people are finding a webpage or getting to a webpage on the internet. That doesn’t really tell you whether it has all been successful. This is the same theme the last – what has happened in the last year or so, year or two in the world of intranet. We’ve had a birth or talk now of the thing called the digital workplace. It kind of started the same time as we started talking about mobile and how do we deal with mobile for intranet. This is also a digital workplace. The bigger world outside of just your desk computer, integrating all services inside the company into one platform you could call it. You could call it the digital workplace.

Per: Right.

James: Because inside companies there are always multitude of systems. You’ve got time report systems. You’ve got room booking systems. You might have ordering systems, the stock systems, accounting systems, procurement systems, payroll and HR systems depending on what you’re working with. You might have a special system for the client information, customer service. I mean the list of types of systems is almost endless and all of these just sat in silos internally. So the digital workplace talks about how you can work with these as a whole and improve the user experience or the employee experience.

That you could say leads me into what was my biggest take-home from Intranätverk. People were talking about user-centred design. People were talking about listening to users.

Per: Oh my god, listening to users.

James: People were talking about research and researching thoroughly before embarking on an intranet project.

Per: So actually finding out what people would find it useful to have on the intranet.

James: What they need to do their jobs.

Per: That’s really wow.

James: But I mean I know. You’re mocking it a little bit now Per. And I’m actually joining in with you a little bit in mocking that but any of us otherwise who have intranet know how much of a revolution it must be now for this to start happening.

People are talking about conferences and talking about this and actually doing this in some situations. Stora Enso and IKEA were two of the people – two of the companies that did presentations. They’re doing this. They’ve learned and realized that it’s not just about building intranet page for your departments and pushing out the information that you think might be useful for everyone.

It’s about enabling people to do their jobs and they say also includes the social intranet side of stuff and allowing people to communicate, share ideas and so on because it helps people to be productive. It helps people do their jobs. A wonderful eye-opener and we’re quite excited that they’re getting there. I just hope that more companies will realize the value of this and allocate the correct amount of resources to this kind of work because I mean there was a – I had a Twitter conversation with Jonas Söderström, Jonas Blind Hen, who we interviewed just before Christmas …


James: … a lot of music in the background and he said – well, even though that now organizations know in principle that UX is important, what are the excuses? Why don’t they do it? Is it just not enough time now? So I replied. Well, I think it seems expensive and we have the same story with UX on the other side, on the internet side. It’s considered often expensive and time-consuming. It costs time and money.

Per: Right, and this is hard to measure.

James: Yeah, and it’s far, far too easy to plough on without doing it.

Per: And you’re not setting goals. You’re not setting goals for the intranet. You’re not setting …

James: Well, you are but sometimes …


Per: Yeah? What are the goals?

James: Sometimes it’s – I mean there might be things that you can find information easier or I’ve even had intranet goals where I used to – these things like to reduce the number of documents.

Per: Yeah, or something like you said before, like share information.

James: Yeah.

Per: But sharing information is not for everyone.

James: No.

Per: There are different people, different cultures within companies and I’m going to think …

James: Jobs.

Per: Yeah. And of course that’s where the UX comes in, that you have to really find out what are people doing everyday and what tools do they really need. But I find that people are rushing into the social intranet, sharing information, all that stuff, making it sound really cool. But it doesn’t always have to be. Intranet can be boring but still very useful as long as you can find information you really need when you start working with the stuff you work with.

James: Yeah, I mean it’s about being honest. All these projects we do whether it’s intranet or internet, a lot of them kind of – key things are down be honest to yourself and be honest to the project. What are people really doing? What do they really want? What does the organization really want? Can we honestly make this mesh together in a way that works?

I don’t think this is – this is like what you’ve said there about traditional intranet. There’s an awful lot of blah, blah, blah, putting your hands over your ears and not listening and ignoring and even if you do do some of the research. I mean Sharon O’Dea said about you could do – you do some research, maybe a workshop or something like this and then ignore it and write what you think and just say you did some research. That’s the kind of thing that does happen in many projects I think as well as intranet projects. You kind of listen and then ignore it and plough on doing what you wanted to, pretending you’ve done some research.

Per: Yeah, that happens a lot.

James: So yeah, but I think another issue, not only is often the case that intranet projects are considered to be technical projects. This is in part because of the much – when you get into enterprise organization, they’re the bigger organizations, the availability or the choice of system, because everyone wants a system and when looking at the pure internet side of things, then the choices or platforms are very limited.

Nowadays I think it’s like seven out of ten of large organizations are running SharePoint or it may be higher than that. It’s probably even eight out of ten. It’s a ridiculously high number of organizations, large organizations that are running SharePoint in some form. That’s almost always a thing that comes out in the IT department and it’s very rarely done with users’ needs in mind. It’s done with IT needs in mind and pushed out and there’s no choice because maybe the rest of their whole architecture is Microsoft-based so they put SharePoint in there too or they see that everyone else is running their intranet on SharePoint so that must be the thing you should do now.

Per: So what happens then is that people find workaround. They find workaround in the way that they use Messenger or stuff like that, just email.

James: That’s a really good point, Per. Another conversation I had was about Dropbox and just thinking about like well, SharePoint, it’s an awful product when it comes to usability. They clearly have made lots of improvements for this version 2013 and they have I think made something like over 100 user interface changes and improvements. But for any person who has been using the previous versions and gets upgraded, that’s an awful lot of learning.

Per: Yeah.

James: I don’t know. My wife has SharePoint at work and she can swear sometimes. When she’s using SharePoint, the worst of her language comes out, I can tell you. She hates it and I know very few people – do you know anyone who loves SharePoint?

Per: I’m thinking really hard because we had SharePoint at Xcelent before as well. We were really trying hard to make something out of it and we couldn’t and there were lots of smart people working there. We were trying to integrate it with the Yammer. We couldn’t even do that.

James: That’s easy now because they actually bough Yammer.

Per: Oh, yeah, exactly. Right now that should be.

James: Well, it’s getting easier. It’s getting easier but it’s still a parallel product. If you ask normal workers who have to use SharePoint, it is very, very few. I think it’s a dream product.

Per: OK. And then you ask …


Per: … if SharePoint is useful. A lot of people get their work done and they don’t really care that people are swearing over it because they’re getting the work done. But they’re not reflecting over how much better work they could do if they were smiling all day long.

James: You will also get things like – going back to what we said about workarounds. People are like water. They will find the way out. They will find the ways to do stuff and one of the conversations we had was about how people are taking the documents that are officially stored in SharePoint because that’s where they have to be but to make them accessible by their mobiles and other laptops and things. They’re putting them in Dropbox.

Per: Right.

James: And they’re finding ways to get them to Dropbox and it doesn’t matter what your IT department does. It doesn’t matter how much they block it. There are always ways to get these …

Per: Yeah, I worked as a consultant at a big company, no names here, where they introduced a new document management system. I mean they put millions and millions and millions of money into this. Insane. And it was just too slow to work with. So what happened was people came to meetings with USB sticks and they were walking around giving each other USB sticks because that was the best way to share information.

James: Or you email the document to another email account.

Per: Right.

James: Yeah, everyone does all this and it’s what I’m saying about being honest. I mean you’ve got IT and security and compliance and everything and you’ve got these big vendors like SharePoint or so on and what it boils down to, they’re not really doing so for the users.

Per: And there are so many stories like this and it all comes really down to ethnography. I mean if you could just work – be around a workplace like that for a couple of days or a week or so, you would know what the problems are and how people actually do work and you have so much information about what type of intranet you really should be doing.

James: And that’s exactly what Stora Enso and IKEA and some of the other speakers on the second day of the Intranätverk said. Listen to users because you get so much good info and good ideas and you know what they want.

Per: Yeah. And again, a word of advice there as well. I mean it’s not always all about listening to what they’re saying but listening to what they’re meaning.

James: Exactly. It’s talking to them and then recording and interpreting what they’re saying.

Per: OK.

James: And balancing this with business needs because you still got to find the balance there. But no, fantastic that we’re making this kind of progress now. I just hope this – we get a bit more diversity as far as products go for intranet or people don’t get just lost in SharePoint. We’re seeing people are integrating with different products now or using SharePoint for one function and then bringing another product in for maybe social side and oh, there’s one – I’ve got one thing I’ll see if I can dig it out…

One excellent thing that IKEA, they talked about guerrilla research because it’s fantastic. See if I can find what I wrote here about this. I can’t find it quick enough. Now, guerrilla research, what IKEA did, they sent out – well, someone with a camera to a few different IKEA locations around the world. I think there was one in China, one in Sweden. There was one somewhere else and they asked them. Oh, what’s your dream digital workplace? What do you want from a digital workplace? They ask normal workers.

Per: Yeah.

James: And they were doing this …

Per: I’m sort of getting goose bumps here. I’m realizing that if there’s anything you listeners should be doing or both of us as well, if there’s anything we should be doing in our projects, it’s to go out and talking to people and using the camera and showing that around. It’s the best way to communicate.

James: Go and look at the IKEA talk from Intranätverk. I will put the link up to it because Kristian has published it and if you just watch one bit of it, skip to the bit where they show the film. So what they did is they edited all these little clips from when they asked these questions to normal people and put it into – I said normal people, just workers. They put it into a three-minute video as part of the pre-project work and buy-in process for the project.

This three-minute video is excellent. It tells you like it is. Now people say things like, “Oh, well I just want to be able to write an update and do it.” They say this simply as they want it to be. But they don’t say, “I want SharePoint. I want to be able to do massive technical specifications of everything.” They just say things really simply and straightforward and that’s how they – oh, this is my job. This is what I want to do and I think it should be like that.

I was just sat there watching that. Thinking, oh wonderful. User research, going out to talk to people, filming it, sharing it with us to help plan the project but also help educate others about what people think out there and communicate some of the aspirations and desires and needs of the workforce.

They sound like they’re on a – it’s going to take – they’ve also been sensible enough to realize that to move IKEA to a fully modern digital workplace, it’s going to take a long time because it’s not just systems. It’s cultural.

Per: Exactly.

James: Change management is a crucial part of all this work and that’s – it’s always true with these internet projects. You’re dealing with people’s workplaces and how they’re doing their jobs. It’s not just throwing out. It’s not just launching a new design start page. You’re changing people’s worlds.

Per: Right.

James: They sat there three hours a day often …

Per: You’re changing their world but you have to be changing them in a way that oh, I’m using something like that already but this is much better if I use the intranet version of it.

James: Yeah.

Per: And you were also mentioning some stuff about replacing tools like – we have SharePoint but for other purposes, we’re using other tools. I know I saw a slide from Oscar Berg. He had the traditional tools and he just replaced them with Dropbox and Yammer and whatever.

James: Yeah.

Per: And realizing that you can just piece together a tool in a week now that would serve as your intranet but it’s made out of 20 tools that are available online right now.

James: Yeah, there have been a couple of good examples of Swedish councils that have done that kind of thing. Well, they’ve taken basically all open source stuff if possible, all that kind of off the shelf tool and spent their efforts and money just integrating these together in a way that works when they need to, allowing it to be more agile, more flexible, going forward.

Per: Yeah.

James: Because once you’ve implemented SharePoint, you’ve implemented SharePoint.

Per: Exactly.

James: That’s it and you’re going to be – many, many, many years before you leave that world, if ever.

Per: And thinking about that perhaps there are people out there that actually do like SharePoint and can use it in a good way. A point I really like to make about intranet is that it is a lot about finding information but some people are just better at finding information than others and sometimes it’s just better to have someone you can ask that can search for the information for you and you shouldn’t be afraid to implement systems like that. It shouldn’t be about everyone doing everything. It should be about the people that are best at something. Give them the tools to help others as well.

James: Yes, this is something – when I was last working with a social intranet – that’s one thing I preach a lot about is that people like asking people – you learn and you know. If Peter, you know Peter is pretty hot and pretty good on that tool or that process. You ask him. You go across. You walk across to his desk and you say, “Oh, remind me. Where is that document? What do I do with that?” And he tells you because he is the guy who knows that thing.

Why would I sit there at my desk 50 meters away and search for it? It’s much more efficient to ask him. Same as like you pick up the phone. You ring someone or you email them because you know where the source of information is because we’re social creatures.

Per: Right. And the intranet is not just the technical stuff. The intranet is the people.

James: Yeah, exactly. And the kind of searching for information, the Googling internally, that’s a fallback. That’s something you do when you’ve exhausted your social contacts, social channels. I found that quote from IKEA now as well.

Per: OK.

James: My collection of tweets. It’s from a Chinese IKEA worker. We’re talking about the digital workplace, the future vision of it. Everybody just logs in and puts some updates. It would be so much easier. That was it, you see. Wonderful.

Per: Yeah.

James: Yeah. Another bit of – it was Linda Tinnert from IKEA that was in the presentation. She said that showing awareness and understanding is the foundation to digital workplace success, which is a nice insight there. They realize that it’s the people. It’s about the people, stupid.

Per: Exactly. It’s a good realization. It’s a good step on the way but I mean stuff like that, what you were saying what the IKEA is doing, just going out and filming people and talking to real people. I think that’s what we have to realize we have to do next. We have the insights. We know it has to be user-centric. We talk about user-centric but we have to start doing it as well.

James: Yeah. I think because of the way that the world of the intranet is so – even those waking up now are making some progress and a lot of companies are showing how you can do mobile and digital workplace and do it well. We’re still years behind the internet and I think it’s going to hit like a car crash in a few years.

Per: Oh, yes.

James: Because we’re going to have such high expectations and we’re going to see how it’s working and how the internet itself has become much more mobile first or mobile only and people who are non-desk workers who were doing jobs in the field, are going to start to be living in a world where they can do absolutely everything via their mobile apart from their job.

Per: That’s a good quote actually. I like that.

James: And that’s when the car crash will hit because you’re just going to get such a huge amount of stress and frustration and I’m hoping a bit of tipping point. We will really see then that God, we’ve got to do this now. There’s so much money to be made from allowing people to work in a better world. You’re researching how they work.

Per: I can actually relate to that in the project I’m working in right now because there’s one woman who works – well, in a state-owned company, let’s say that, and so funny because we’re a project team and there are four people of us and three of us are consultants and she – her computer, she can’t install the stuff that people have to work with. We wanted to install Dropbox. That won’t work. Google Drive, that won’t work. Skype, that won’t work. So we can’t really communicate with her. We actually meet her and so it’s funny because the rest of us were just all over the place with all these tools and it’s making our lives so much easier.

James: Yeah.

Per: And she’s just not allowed to.

James: Yeah. No. Not an unusual story.

Per: Yeah.

James: But it’s kind of nice that you’re forced to meet her.

Per: Yeah, of course.

James: If it works.

Per: We sit all day working in a small conference room nowadays.

James: Yeah.

Per: Kind of fun as well.

James: But this whole thing about.. Jonas Söderström was saying as well, that there’s a lot of talk about digital workplaces and there’s a lot of focus at the moment about how we can enable – or you do the opposite of your who and enable people to telecommute and work from Starbucks or from home or from anywhere they like. But we’ve got to remember as well that that’s just a proportion of our economy.

Per: Yeah.

James: It might be a very important part of it. It might even be the driving engine for the economist, these desk workers, digital workers. But you still got an awful lot of people out there who are doing field work and managing forests or doing care work or working in stores, shops and things where they have all got mobiles in their pockets and it’s going to be – we’re going to have to have a revolution in a few years.

Per: Yes.

James: I’ve got one more little insight here. When we had our kitchen done, I might have mentioned – did I mention this one to you?

Per: I think so.

James: About the workers that came and they did the building work here and just that fact, that they all had iPads and telephones.

Per: Oh, yeah.

James: They were reading content and doing – they were – during their breaks. They sat there discussing news articles and reading news articles and things on their iPads and it was fascinating to come in and see this. Like three builders sat in my living room all with their iPads and iPhones discussing content, discussing sports and stuff. A few years ago, they would have only sat there with tabloid papers, you know paper papers, reading yesterday’s news.

Per: Yeah. I remember the carpenter who came in to build my kid’s loft beds. He took pictures of the beds after he built them and posted them online on his Facebook page. That was his marketing.

James: Yeah, one of the guys who did my kitchen and stuff did the same thing. He took a picture of one of the best features we have on the kitchen and he posted it and he uses it in his collection of photos or shows when he’s doing sales talks with people.

Per: Right.

James: This is probably very Swedish because there are some other countries where their builders and plumbers and so on don’t sit around looking at iPads or 3D connections. I mean I understand that it is a little bit more advanced in some markets but still it’s an insight into where we’re going and …

Per: I think so.

James: One of the things we heard from – I think it was Luke at UX Lx, Wroblewski. He talked about how in America certain demographics are, mobile is there only way to access in the internet. So they’re all out there. They’re working and they’re doing jobs and they have the mobile and the mobile is their internet, yet they’re not able to do their jobs.

Per: Right.

James: Because their jobs haven’t come that far.

Per: And then I just read the other day which was a study from Australia where they actually realized that the mobile internet usage has surpassed the desktop and the – well, not only desktop but – what do you call it? Laptop computers as well in the use of the internet. So more people are actually accessing the internet via mobile than regular computers now in Australia which is – that says something and it’s probably – they just haven’t done this study yet in a lot of countries but that tells you a lot about where we’re going and it’s just mobile in the future.

James: Yeah. But also we’re entering a bit now – we’re entering a phase now. I think we’re still drifting a little bit but we’re entering a phase now where we’ve got more device diversity than we ever had in the history of personal computing.

Per: Yeah.

James: We’ve got mobile phones that are everything from three inches to six inches now and then you’ve got tablets I got from basically six inches all the way up to – I think Sony to a 24-inch tablet which is madness and then you’ve got laptops which you can remove keyboards and they become tablets. You’ve got laptops that are everything from like 9, 10 inches up to 24 inches or something. You’ve got laptops themselves and you’ve got desktops and you’ve got iMacs or whatever with massive retina screens that are big as football pitches.

Per: I actually found the link yesterday. I will post that as well to – I think it’s called Screensize.es. So Screen Sizes.

James: Yeah.

Per: And they posted a lot of these different sizes. It’s insane. We are drifting but I think the workforce – it’s all about understanding the workforce and I’m realizing that people have so much stuff. They have so many gadgets and they have better devices at home than they have at work which means that people are bringing their devices to work and expecting them to work better for them in their workplace as well.

James: Yeah, and that was one of the things I talked about at the conference bring your own device, that whole – well, bring your own device and also that convenience always wins. I said earlier that people are like water. They will find the way to trickle out and to do what they need to do to do their jobs even if your IT department doesn’t like it or your policies don’t like it.

Per: So either you understand them and help them or you just …

James: Keep on swimming against the stream and hope that you will get to the top of the mountain again. But this won’t happen. We’ve got to be honest. Wake up. Do some user research and listen to our workers. Help them do their jobs.

Per: I think that’s a good note to end on actually.

James: Yeah, I think so.

Per: Excellent. Thanks for listening. Remember to give us some feedback and remember to keep moving.

James: And see you on the other side.

Hide the transcript

#47 James & Per say goodbye to UXLx 2013

This podcast is episode 7 of 7 recorded at UXLx 2013

That’s it. it’s all over. Time to board the aeroplane and head back to Stockholm. It’s been a fun and intensive 3 days of conferencing, including 6 podcasts recorded on location. In this final show from UXLx we chat a bit about the conference day yesterday and also look back on the conference as a whole.

(Listening time 16 minutes)


#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?

Read More

#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)


#43 James & Per lean on better meetings

This podcast is episode 3 of 7 recorded at UXLx 2013

The first morning of the conference is over and we’re straight out of our first workshops. James attended Better Meetings by Design with Kevin Hoffman and Per attended Lean Ethnography with Kelly Goto.

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#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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#40 James & Per and The Cogheads

Spring has finally arrived in Stockholm. In this link-show James and Per discuss three articles they’ve recently stumbled upon. We discuss… the important of cognitive load when making simple products, websites and services. Why every start up needs a UX advisor – or why everyone needs a UX advisor. Finally we chat about Google’s new European cookie law compliance feature.

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#36 James & Per say white rabbits

Two giggly old men begin this episode of UX Podcast by corpsing. Once we had composed ourselves, the topic was misunderstanding the term UX.  What is UX? Can it be definied? Can you be a “UX-er”? Is the phrase “UX” needed or are we just unnecessarily compliating things?

(Listening time: 36 minutes)


Episode 33: James and Per set design trends

In the first show of 2013, James and Per host a link show… with a single link. We talk our way through a recent blog post by Gannon Burgett where he lays out 13 design trends for 2013. We turn into grumpy old men about some of them, but find that we like and agree with some of the others!

(Listening time: 41 minutes)



Recording episode 33 of UX Podcast

James and Per recording episode 33.

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)