Weeknote 28th October 2022 – Design patterns, note taking systems & modular synths

I know this shouldn’t be a suprise to someone who works in research, but pretty much everything is complicated. I’ve had one of those weeks where much of what I work on ends up being more complicated that I had thought.

Not in an ‘it’s complicated’ perjorative way, more in a ‘things are quite interesting when you dig into them’ sort of way.

I’ve been continuing to work on research into the needs around a file upload feature on GOV.UK Forms. Some on-the-face-of-it quite simple research questions have deveoped into sharing some mock ups that needed a lot thought through. The plan has progressed well though, so hopefully will be actually running the research next week, although I am still working on recruiting the right people to be involved.

One of the tricky parts of my work is recruiting civil servants to do research and testing with. There are a huge number of potential users of our products. Generally people are supportive and pretty open to working with us. However, it always takes a lot of time to make sure we are finding the right people, finding availability for them, and getting things booked in. We’ve got lots of avenues, panels, contacts and a network we are building up. I guess this isn’t the most difficult part of the work, just that it can be one of the more unpredictable areas so it is often on my mind, and my to do list.

I did some interesting work this week digging in to the GOV.UK Design System patterns. I wanted to understand what research had been done on HTML forms, and the different types of information inputs that are in the Design System. I don’t want to end up repeating research that has been done, but want to see what we might need to do with people who complete forms to understand how well the forms that have been made with our product are working for them.

What’s interesting is that the inputs are presented as ‘patterns’ which includes not just the type of input field, but also the question that is asked. We are looking at template questions that I am assuming are going to basically be ‘patterns’, but our users will likely need the flexibility to ask their own questions too.

So, while a lot of research has clearly gone into the patterns that are in the system, the way that they might be implemented through GOV.UK Forms is pretty complex. For now, I’m bookmarking this to explore more once we’ve got some more users creating forms. There’s only one live to day, but when the product scales up and we start getting a corpus of forms and questions created it’s going to be really interesting to explore.

In other areas, I’ve spent a bit of time this week looking at note taking and ‘personal knowledge management’. I’ve had a few approaches to documenting and organising my notes and ideas over the years. These have included blogging them in public, using Evernote, Google Docs, and more recently Simplenote. I wanted to get a bit better at organising and documenting ideas. I’d played around with Notion, but I’m now digging into using Obsidian on recommendation from my colleague Tris Oaten.

It took me a while to realise how good this note taking software is. The simplicity of basing everything around local markdown files belies a lot of power, especially when you get into the various plugins and themes. I had some very particular ways I wanted to do things, and I’ve managed to quickly set it up just as I wanted, after exploring many ready made apps that would provide those features out of the box.

I’ll keep testing it for a while, but it is looking promising to replace my current note taking and project management systems, and also turn over a new leaf in organising my thinking. And writing more. Really want the right system to support writing more.

Outside of work and projects this week, I had an amazing evening of music at the Barbican. It was a concert by Caterina Barbieri, a minimalist electronic composer and performer. She uses a modular synth setup to create deep, evolving, melodic soundscapes. I have enjoyed her records before, and spotted she was performing and thought it would be interesting. It blew me away, live was a level above on record for me. As someone who’s done a fair bit of modular synthesis I was in awe of how much depth and variation she got from a relatively simple and minimal setup. It wasn’t really about the tech though – what was so great was that the music transcended all that into mesmerising, dynamic, emotional soundscapes. Great lighting design to accentuate that too. Great stuff, I’d recommend her latest album ‘Spirit Exit’, which she performed here, and her back catalogue.

I’m off on leave this afternoon to travel up to a family wedding. Looking forward to celebrating and seeing lots of family, some who I haven’t seen for a long time!

Next week is lots of pressing on with things from this week, hopefully lining up some sessions with users.

I’m also looking for a museum or cultural thing to visit, as we’ve made a resolution to do a visit like this once a week after work, making the most of being so close to central London.


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