1. Simply Secure: launching a new brand in just four weeks

    Simply Secure Simply Secure is a new organisation, dedicated to finding ways to improve online security – in ways so accessible and useful that there will be no barrier to their use.

    It will bring together developers, UX experts, researchers, designers and, crucially, end users. The plan is to ensure the availability of security and privacy tools that aren’t just robust – they’ll be actively pleasing to use.

    Fascinating stuff

    Now, you may be thinking that online privacy and security aren’t the most fascinating subject – but this month, the chances are that you’ve actually been discussing it down the pub or with your Facebook friends.

    Remember the iCloud story, where celebrities’ personal photographs were taken from supposedly secure cloud storage and put online? Yes, that. If you uttered an opinion about how those celebrities could have kept their images more safely, you’ve been nattering about online security.

    Simply Secure  is founded on the belief that we’d all like privacy and security online, but that up until now, solutions have been too cumbersome and not user-centred enough. When implementing them becomes a hassle, even technically-literate people will choose usability over security.

    How we helped

    Simply Secure knew what their proposition was: now we needed to package this up into a brand for them. Crucially, it needed to transmit a playful yet serious message to launch the organisation to the world – within just four weeks.

    Our designer Martin developed all the necessary branding and illustration. He created a look and feel that would be carried across not just Simply Secure’s website, but into the real world, on stickers and decoration for the launch event.

    Meanwhile, mySociety Senior Consultant Mike helped with content, page layout and structure, all optimised to speak directly to key audience groups.

    Down at the coding end of things, our developer Liz ensured that we handed over a project that could be maintained with little to no cost or effort, and extended as the organisation’s purpose evolves.

    “mySociety are brilliant to work with. They did in a month what I’ve seen others do in six, and they did it better” – Sara “Scout” Sinclair Brody, Simply Secure

    What did the client think? In their own words: “We approached [mySociety] with a rush job to build a site for a complex and new effort.

    “They were able to distill meaning from our shaky and stippled examples, and create something that demonstrated skill not only as designers and web architects, but as people able to grasp nuanced and complicated concepts and turn those into workable, representative interfaces”.

    Always good to hear!

    Something different

    People who know mySociety’s work might have noticed that we don’t typically work on purely content-driven sites. Generally we opt to focus on making interactions simple, and data engaging, so why did we go ahead with the Simply Secure project?

    Well, there were a couple of factors. Firstly, we genuinely think that this will become an invaluable service for every user of the internet, and as an organisation which puts usability above all else, we wanted to be involved.

    Second, we believe in the people behind the project. Some of them are friends of mySociety’s, going back some time, and we feel pretty confident that any project they’re involved in will do good things, resulting in a more secure internet for everyone.

    Take a look

    Simply Secure launches today. We’ll be checking back in a couple of months to report on how it’s going.

    For now, do yourself a favour and visit Simply Secure now. If you have expertise or opinions in any area of online privacy and security, why not get involved?

  2. FixMyStreet mobile design decisions

    So we wanted to build an app for FixMyStreet. Easy: we just had to make a cut-down version of the website, right?

    Hmm, not quite.

    In our two recent posts, we announced the new FixMyStreet apps, and their developer Struan went into some technical detail about why and how we built them.

    Now he explains a little more about what informed the decisions he made during the apps’ development.

    Moving the map, not the pin

    Linked by Cali4Beach

    When you use the desktop version of FixMyStreet, the first thing it asks for is your location, and there’s a good reason for that. It’s such a good reason that it needed to apply to the app as well.

    On the desktop site we ask you to input your postcode or street name. With a mobile app, it’s much more likely that you’ll be reporting a problem that’s right in front of you, so we can usually skip that step and show you a map of your current location.

    However, while the accuracy of geolocation technology is pretty good, it’s not perfect, so we wanted to let users fine-tune the location.

    On the website you click on the map to drop a pin where the problem is, but we’ve found this isn’t the best solution on a small screen. Fingers are big and the end of a pin is small so it can take several clicks to correctly position the pin.

    We quickly realised that having a central static crosshair, and moving the map to the location was a much easier and more accurate way to set a location.

    Sending reports made offline

    Adapted from an image by Premshree PillaiAs we explained in the previous post, one of the benefits of the apps over the mobile site is that you can make reports even if you have no phone coverage. The app stores all the details until you get back within range and you’re ready to send it off.

    One decision we made, which might seem initially puzzling, is that these offline reports don’t automatically get sent off to the council once you’re back within range of a phone or wifi signal.

    There are two linked reasons for this, and they’re both related to the fact that FixMyStreet lets you report a problem even if you don’t know who to send it to.

    Simply, before we can work out who to send the report to, we need to know exactly where you are – and that you are within FixMyStreet’s area of coverage (ie, within the UK).

    Your location also dictates the categories that we show you. Each council has its own categories, and in areas covered by two tiers of government, each council will deal with different types of report. So for example, your county council might deal with potholes, while your district council handles dog fouling.

    Once you’re back online we can check that the location is one we can accept a report about, and then fetch the list of categories for you to pick from.

    In effect, this delay is also a second chance for you to check your report before you send it off, although that was never the reason for the decision!

    The constant map

    Ordnance Survey "One-Inch" Map by Christopher Bulle
    The final decision we made was to leave the map in the background at every step of the app process.

    We initially designed it with the map only appearing when you needed it, but having the map underlying the reporting process provides a nice bit of continuity with the website, and seemed to make the app cohere better too. So, while there’s no particular reason for it to be there, we made the decision to keep things uniform.

    If anything else about the app has got you wondering, do feel free to leave a comment below!

    Photos by Cali4Beach and Christopher Bulle, and adapted from an image by Premshree Pillai (CC)

  3. What we’re doing on TheyWorkForYou

    Image by William WarbyLast week we asked what  improvements you’d like to see on TheyWorkForYou. Thanks so much for all the comments on that post (do keep them coming). They’ve all been carefully documented on our development list.

    Our standard way of working on a project like this is in ‘sprints’ – short periods of activity after which we can spend some time reflecting on what went well, and what could have gone better.

    This system is great for ensuring that we don’t get involved in a large piece of work, only to realise that it doesn’t do what was intended, or hasn’t had the desired effect. So, for example, if we’ve added a new feature, we might be asking ourselves, ‘Is anyone using it?’, ‘Have there been any bug reports?’, and ‘Has it fulfilled our original aim?’. We’re striving to be as analytical and methodical as possible about these assessments, so part of the process has also been figuring out which types of metrics to collect, and how.

    That said, what have we already done?

    It’s easier to find a specific representative

    Where previously our pages listing all MPs, all MSPs and all MLAs just contained one very long list of names that you had to search or scroll through, there’s now an A-Z navigation at the top. We also added the ability to find your own MP from this page.
    AZ navigation on TheyWorkForYou

    Why? This is an example of a small usability tweak which should make a difference to a large number of people – not everyone knows how to search a web page with Ctrl+F. It’s also a fix that’s been on our to-do list for two years!

    The addition of the ‘find your MP’ box helps to serve one of our core aims: to make democracy easy to understand for the uninitiated.

    We’ve added ‘like’ and ‘follow’ buttons

    social media buttons on TheyWorkForYouWe thought you might not notice these discreet additions to our page footers – but we’ve certainly seen an upturn on the rate at which people are ‘liking’ our Facebook page. Whereas Twitter – not so much. Maybe TheyWorkForYou users are just more Facebook-inclined?

    Why? In part, this addition is for our own benefit – we welcome the opportunity that social media gives our users to spread the word. As a small organisation with no advertising budget, this kind of grass roots promotion is invaluable. Then, we are hoping that it will help us to understand our users. Clicking that ‘like’ button can be seen as a form of positive affirmation and enagement that it’s very hard to quantify by other means.

    We are still considering the addition of  buttons which would allow you to share specific debates with your social circles.

    We have noted the comments on our last post which made it clear that some of our users do not welcome integration with social media. That’s fine – we’ll never do anything that excludes you from the core activities of the site, whether you use Facebook and Twitter or not – our intention is simply to provide the functionality for those who want it.

    Those comments have been a useful reminder to us that we should continue to consult our users, because we can’t always predict what you might object to!

    You can change your email address

    If you have an account, now you can change your email address yourself.

    Why? This was identified as a common request that often puzzled users, and took up support time on our side.

    MPs’ pages will look better

    You can’t see these yet, because they’re still in progress. Due to some quirks of the code in which the site was originally built, the new design for the MPs’ pages has taken longer to implement than we’d anticipated. But we’re getting there.

    Why?  MPs’ pages contain an awful lot of information, from voting history to recent appearances, and more. The redesign will help us present all this information more clearly, making the page just as easy to read on a mobile device as it is on a desktop, and simply bringing the (frankly, dated) pages a more current look.

    Bullets are bullets

    alert for kittens on TheyWorkForYouThis is almost ridiculous, but we think it was worth attending to. In recent user tests, we noticed some confusion, caused by the fact that our bullet points were in the form of small squares – they were frequently mistaken for check boxes.

    Why? Just to rid the world of that one small piece of frustration that occurs when you try to tick a box that is not, in fact, a checkbox.

    What now?

    As I say, we are still actively collecting and working on your feedback, so please do keep it coming. Comment below this post, or drop us a line on hello@mysociety.org. I’ll be reporting back after our next sprint.

    Photo by William Warby (CC)

  4. Design thinking in Cape Town

    The Open Democracy Advice Centre (ODAC) in South Africa will be using mySociety’s Alaveteli software in their latest project – and, with a bit of match-making from mySociety, the preparation period has been rigorous.

    Alaveteli is our open source Freedom of Information platform. It underlies our own UK-based WhatDoTheyKnow, and right-to-know sites around the world. Alaveteli sites make it easy for citizens to ask questions of those bodies who operate under Freedom of Information law and, significantly, they automatically publish all responses.

    Dassies (rock-dwelling hyrax) by Arthur Chapman

    Before any coding or implementation began, we got ODAC together with the “Governance Collaboratory”, an initiative from the d.school in Stanford University that seeks to apply the “design thinking” approach to projects that intend to make government more open, more effective, and more accountable. We’ve observed quite a few Alaveteli installs, but while we’re always on hand to offer support and answer development queries, we’ve never prepared the ground quite like this.

    Gabriella Razzano of ODAC welcomed Jeremy Weinstein and Jenny Stefanotti, both from the d.school, to Cape Town for an intensive few days of assessing how the design thinking approach could shape the project. Two staff from mySociety also went along — Paul (our Head of International Projects) and Dave (one of our developers) — because we’re keen to understand how the d.school’s approach might improve the way we go about building our new projects.

    Now, at mySociety we already know a thing or two about building civic systems that engage with the public, because we have considerable experience in the field. We are expert at combining user experience and current tech to create simple, usable interfaces (see our DIY blog for some example details). We conduct usability tests, we apply A/B testing, and we think hard about what our analytics tell us. But actually much of this is reactive, iterative design: it’s being applied after the core product has already been built.

    Design thinking challenges this approach by suggesting that the user on which initial designs are often based is purely imaginary. As a result, the site inevitably includes the assumptions and prejudices of its creators. This won’t necessarily lead to a bad design — especially if the creators are benign and experienced — but it must fail, by definition, to account for the unexpected things that may motivate or concern actual users. The design thinking process attempts to change this by approaching the initial problem in a prescribed way and following a process that isolates genuine, existing requirements. This includes, in design thinking terms, processing the initial interviews into empathy maps from which requirements emerge, and which themselves become features that are rapidly prototyped in isolation from other parts of the system.

    This is uncomfortable for those of us used to building loose iterations from the bottom up and refining them later. It means introducing empathy and rapid, offline prototyping much earlier in the process than we’d normally expect. Certainly in the commercial world it’s common for a company to prototype against their target consumers early on. But for civic projects such as mySociety’s, it’s often much harder to identify who the users will be, for the impressive yet overwhelming reason that often we are building our platforms for everybody. This can lead to generalisations which may miss specific issues that could make a huge difference to some users.

    The d.school advocates a “learning by doing” way of teaching, so the days we spent in Cape Town were a busy mix of practice as well as theory. We interviewed people who had a variety of reasons to want to make Freedom of Information requests, including an activist who’s already used South Africa’s Freedom of Information legislation to make requests regarding housing projects, the head of a rape crisis centre, and law students who may well become a nation’s most empowered activists. From these interviews we isolated specific needs, which at this stage were nearly all unconnected to any digital or web requirement. Jeremy and Jenny then led us through the process of rapid, analogue prototyping intended to address those needs.

    Inevitably we could only scratch the surface in the few days we had available, but we hope ODAC will be able to apply the process to the development of their project, just as we aim to use it to benefit the work on ours.

    Image credit: Procavia capensis (Rock-dwelling Hyrax or Dassie) by Arthur Chapman, released under CC BY-NC-SA on Flickr.

    They tell visitors that dassies such as these live atop Table Mountain. We went up there and saw none. Similarly, Freedom of Information requests exist in South Africa under the Promotion of Access to Information Act 2000 (PAIA), but most people have never seen one — fewer than 200 PAIA requests were made nationally in 2012. This tenuous comparison allows us to illustrate the blog post with a cute picture of fuzzy mammals.

  5. How flood warnings should look online

    If you live anywhere in Britain, it won’t have escaped your attention that it’s been raining a bit, recently.

    This has been causing quite a bit of flooding. And when flooding happens, people need to know if it is going to affect them.

    Unfortunately, the Environment Agency flood warning website leaves something to be desired. It is, quite frankly, a usability dogs’ breakfast, with problems including:

    • It doesn’t answer the main question: Most users arriving at this page simply want to know if they might be in danger. The page should be all about answering that question.
    • It is trying to serve national and local needs: Information about flooding across the whole country might be useful to journalists or civil servants, but it shouldn’t be the main element.
    • Clutter, clutter: A massive grid of numbers which don’t really mean anything, plus lots of sidebar links.
    • Confusing graphics: The page contains a national map which doesn’t actually make it clear that the colours relate to the seriousness of flooding, or that it provides links to further content.

    There are also some non-design problems with the postcode lookup, but today we want to stick to just the design issues.

    Not just moaning minnies

    View Mockup

    At mySociety we try to be constructive in our criticism, and so whilst the flood waters are still draining from many people’s homes, we thought that we could do something positive. We want to show that a flood warning page could be an exemplar of clear, user-centered information design. So we made a mockup.

    Some of the improvements we’d like to point out are:

    • A big page title that makes it obvious what this page is, and the fact that it is official information.
    • All the main elements on the page are now focussed on the most likely needs of potential flood victims – journalists can follow a link to a different page for their needs.
    • We’ve removed roughly 90% of the links on the page for clarity.
    • We’ve removed all numerical data because it wasn’t adding value. Nobody can know if ‘5 warnings’ is a lot or a little without some context. As a nod to the overall context we’ve put in a simple graph, similar to a sparkline.
    • It presents a clear button to click on if you’re actually endangered by a flood.
    • It gives you a way to find out if other people near you are talking about local flooding via social media.

    We hope you like this. It’s just the product of a couple of hours’ work, so if you have any suggestions on how it could be better, please let us know.

    And, of course, we’re always happy to do similar work for other people.

  6. FixMyStreet’s been redesigned

    FixMyStreet, our site for reporting things like potholes and broken street lights, has had something of a major redesign, kindly supported in part by Kasabi. With the help of Supercool, we have overhauled the look of the site, bringing it up to date and making the most of some lovely maps. And as with any mySociety project, we’d really appreciate your feedback on how we can make it ever more usable.

    The biggest change to the new FixMyStreet is the use of responsive design, where the web site adapts to fit within the environment in which it’s being viewed. The main difference on FixMyStreet, besides the obvious navigation changes, is that in a small screen environment, the reporting process changes to have a full screen map and confirmation step, which we thought would be preferable on small touchscreens and other mobiles. There are some technical details at the end of this post.

    Along with the design, we’ve made a number of other improvements along the way. For example, something that’s been requested for a long time, we now auto-rotate photos on upload, if we can, and we’re storing whatever is provided rather than only a shrunken version. It’s interesting that most photos include correct orientation information, but some clearly do not (e.g. the Blackberry 9800).

    We have many things we’d still like to do, as a couple of items from our github repository show. Firstly, it would be good if the FixMyStreet alert page could have something similar to what we’ve done on Barnet’s planning alerts service, providing a configurable circle for the potential alert area. We also are going to be adding faceted search to the area pages, allowing you to see only reports in a particular category, or within a certain time period.

    Regarding native phone apps – whilst the new design does hopefully work well on mobile phones, we understand that native apps are still useful for a number of reasons (not least, the fact photo upload is still not possible from a mobile web app on an iPhone). We have not had the time to update our apps, but will be doing so in the near future to bring them more in line with the redesign and hopefully improve them generally as well.

    The redesign is not the only news about FixMyStreet today

    As part of our new DIY mySociety project, we are today publishing an easy-to-read guide for people interested in using the FixMyStreet software to run versions of FixMyStreet outside of Britain. We are calling the newly upgraded, more re-usable open source code the FixMyStreet Platform.

    This is the first milestone in a major effort to upgrade the FixMyStreet Platform code to make it easier and more flexible to run in other countries. This effort started last year, and today we are formally encouraging people to join our new mailing list at the new FixMyStreet Platform homepage.

    Coming soon: a major upgrade to FixMyStreet for Councils

    As part of our redesign work, we’ve spoken to a load of different councils about what they might want or need, too. We’re now taking that knowledge, combining it with this redesign, and preparing to relaunch a substantially upgraded FixMyStreet for Councils product. If you’re interested in that, drop us a line.

    Kasabi: Our Data is now in the Datastore

    Finally, we are also now pushing details of reports entered on FixMyStreet to Kasabi’s data store as open linked data; you can find details of this dataset on their site. Let us know if it’s useful to you, or if we can do anything differently to help you.

    Technical details

    For the web developers amongst you – we have a base stylesheet for everyone, and another stylesheet that is only included if your browser width is 48em or above (an em is a unit of measurement dependent on your font size), or if you’re running Internet Explorer 6-8 (as they don’t handle the modern CSS to do this properly, we assume they’ll want the larger styles) using a conditional comment. This second stylesheet has slight differences up to 61em and above 61em. Whilst everything should continue to work without JavaScript, as FixMyStreet has done with its map-based reporting since 2007, where it is enabled this allows us to provide the full screen map you can see at large screen sizes, and the adjusted process you see at smaller resolutions.

    We originally used Modernizr.mq() in our JavaScript, but found that due to the way this works (adding content to the end of the document), this can cause issues with e.g. data() set on other elements, so we switched to detecting which CSS is being applied at the time.

    On a mobile, you can see that the site navigation is at the end of the document, with a skip to navigation link at the top. On a desktop browser, you’ll note that visually the navigation is now at the top. In both cases, the HTML is the same, with the navigation placed after the main content, so that it hopefully loads and appears first. We are using display: table-caption and caption-side: top in the desktop stylesheet in order to rearrange the content visually (as explained by Jeremy Keith), a simple yet powerful technique.

    From a performance point of view, on the front page of the site, we’re e.g. using yepnope (you can get it separately or as part of Modernizr) so that the map JavaScript is downloading in the background whilst you’re there, meaning the subsequent map page is hopefully quicker to load. I’m also adding a second tile server today – not because our current one isn’t coping, it is, but just in case something should happen to our main one – we already have redundancy in our postcode/area server MapIt and our population density service Gaze.

    If you have any technical questions about the design, please do ask in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer.

  7. FixMyTransport launches – mySociety’s biggest project since 2008

    Everyone at mySociety is quite bubbling with excitement at the news that we’re today officially launching FixMyTransport.com , mySociety’s first new core charitable website since WhatDoTheyKnow launched in 2008. We’ve never before launched a site that took so much work to build, or that contained so much data.

    What is it for?

    FixMyTransport has two goals – one in your face, and the other more subtle.

    The first goal, as the site’s name suggests, is to help people get common public transport problems resolved. We’re talking broken ticket machines, gates that should be open and stations without stair-free access. We’ll help by dramatically lowering the barrier to working out who’s responsible, and getting a problem report sent to them – a task that would have been impossible without the help of volunteers who gathered a huge number of operator email addresses for us. Consequently the service works everywhere in Great Britain, our database has over 300,000 stops and routes for train, tube, tram, bus, coach and ferry.

    The second goal – the subtle one – is to see if it is possible to use the internet to coax non-activist, non-political people into their first taste of micro-activism. Whilst the site intentionally doesn’t contain any language about campaigning or democracy, we encourage and provide tools to facilitate the gathering of supporters, the emailing of local media, the posting of photos of problems, and the general application of pressure where it is needed. We also make problem reports and correspondence between operators and users public, which we have frequently seen create positive pressure when used on sister sites FixMyStreet and WhatDoTheyKnow.

    Who made it?

    FixMyTransport was largely built by one remarkable coder – Louise Crow, who started as a volunteer and who is now one of our longest serving core developers. She spent 18 months coding the site almost entirely by herself, wrestling with truly tortuous data problems and collaborating with Birmingham’s fantastic SuperCool design to make it look lovely (you should hire them, they’re great).  She also tolerated my ‘aspirational scattergun’ school of project management with remarkable good humour. She really is the king of transport coding.

    Credit must also go to mySociety core dev Dave Whiteland, who made the Facebook integration work, despite not having an account himself!

    Why is it dedicated to Angie Martin?

    Angie Martin was a mySociety coder for an all-too-brief period before she succumbed to cancer at a devastatingly early age. We’re dedicating this site to her in remembrance of a great, self taught perl monger who should still be here.

    We’ll be posting further blog posts about the development process, the data challenges, and the overall project philosophy. In the mean time, please keep arms and legs inside the carriage – FixMyTransport is just about to depart.

  8. FixMyStreet in Norway

    At mySociety we love our site FixMyStreet – it’s the epitome of a web tool that gives simple tangible benefits whilst generating a little accountability at the same time. Reports through the site were up 40% last year, so it’s clear that users quite like it too.

    FixMyStreet has been copied in many different countries, which makes everyone in mySociety very happy, too, even apparently appearing in a slide deck the White House uses to show innovative services. However, it turns out that the cheerfully minimalist, almost wantonly unfashionable user-interface has an unfortunate down side: most people who copy the site look at it, think “That looks easy!” and then cheerfully start coding their own clone.

    Deceptive simplicity

    Alas – the very simplicity that makes the site good hides the fact that making a site like FixMyStreet really work well is actually way harder than it looks. What will you do when a government email inbox fills up? What about when administrative boundaries change, due to an election or restructuring? How do you know you’re not scaring users away with careless wording? All the hard-won lessons from these questions have been baked into the FixMyStreet codebase, and we’re only too keen to talk to people about them.

    We were therefore particularly pleased when the Nowegian Unix User’s Group (NUUG) came to us to ask if we could help improve FixMyStreet to make it easier for them to install. Over the last month mySociety Senior Developer Matthew Somerville has been working hard with Petter Reinholdtsen and Christer Gundersen of NUUG, and here’s what they’ve managed in just a handful of weeks.

    • The launch of a Norwegian FixMyStreet called Fiksgatami, covering nearly every corner of Norway’s 300,000 square kilometers.
    • Problems reported anywhere within Norway will be correctly directed to any of the 400+ responsible municipalities, thanks to Petter and Christer’s amazing data sourcing skills.
    • As a necessary side-effect of developing this, Norway now has a free, public administrative web service gazeteer – http://mapit.nuug.no. If Norway is anything like the UK this will soon become an indispensable service for many other web sites and mobile tools.
    • The standard mapping is now OpenStreetMap, pulled together by the brilliant Norwegian OpenStreetMap community*. We couldn’t take a technological step backward, and so whilst the site uses OpenLayers if you have JavaScript, the map continues to work just fine without as well.
    • The open source FixMyStreet codebase has been upgraded to make it easier to translate into other languages, easier to use different mapping with, and easier to install. These efforts will continue, as we realise this has been one reason why others have made their own versions.
    • All this has been done without forking, so various major upgrades we have planned for the UK version will be exportable later in the year.

    NUUG’s Fiksgatami is the epitome of what makes civic open source at its best so unmatchably good. It was developed incredibly quickly: just a month to create what is effectively a fully fledged, best-of-breed nationwide e-government service – albeit an unofficial one. Thanks to the hard work of the public servants who fix problem reports, it will make small but meaningful improvements to the lives of a lot of people in Norway.  And it has made the free FixMyStreet codebase better and easier for other people to use to help them do the same thing in other countries.

    I know that at mySociety we are all looking forward to working with NUUG again. And I hope that this story inspires others to look at our code, and to work with mySociety to make FixMyStreet a service that can help everyone who would benefit from it.

    * We’ll be rolling out updated mapping (including OSM) and more in the UK, soon.

  9. Seeking to Contract an Interactive Designer for FixMyTransport

    Do you care for usability as much as you care for elegance? Do you enjoy knocking the rough edges off user journeys, as well as making them playful and attractive? Are you looking for a contract that will make a real difference to the lives of your fellow citizens? If so, we’d like to talk to you about becoming the design lead on mySociety’s next site, FixMyTransport.

    Why we need better design, and why we need it now

    FixMyTransport will be the next major charitable project built by mySociety. It is a project of a registered charity, currently running award-winning civic and democratic websites like TheyWorkForYou.com and FixMyStreet.com. Our sites have strong reputations for being effective and highly usable, but are not known for their shininess or fun-loving nature.

    With FixMyTransport we want to change this reputation, and start to become known for tools that are as lovely as they are effective. This decision reflects mySociety’s view that we have a leadership responsibility within the global community of civic-minded software developers: a responsibility to push the boundaries of what has been achieved previously, and to critically assess our own achievements.

    Why we think collaborating on the design for FixMyTransport would be pretty cool

    FixMyTransport is a particularly interesting challenge because it represents a deliberate attempt to pioneer a new approach to motivating civic action through the web. Our specific goal is to build a platform that can coax people who do not think of themselves as ‘activists’ or ‘campaigners’ over the edge into being micro-activists, by focusing on capturing and magnifying the passion that is created when people have problems with public transport.

    The design challenges that fall our way are therefore complex and fascinating. The service needs to be friendly and reassuring enough to encourage people to make what may be a hugely significant ‘first’ in their lives. But it must also be professional-looking enough to make the targets of campaigns feel that it means business. Furthermore, as a platform, different campaigns will head in different directions, and the design and work-flow will have to cope with many unanticipated uses.

    Organisational Context

    mySociety has ten full time staff, and a wider community of energetic and creative volunteers. We pride ourselves on being pretty good at smooth user journeys and worthwhile incentives for using the services. But we know that we have weaknesses when it comes to making things beautiful and playful, which is why we’re looking for a designer who is willing to do more than just prettify whatever we give them. We’re looking for someone with knowledge of user-experience deep enough to challenge us about the layout of pages and the user journeys through them, whilst being respectful of our own knowledge. We’re looking for a genuine collaborator who will teach us and learn from us as we work together, and someone who will understand when conversion tracking is worth using, and when it isn’t.

    We need someone who has a good understanding of the nature of interactive design, and who knows what web developers need from designers. And perhaps most importantly, we’re looking for someone who will bring a vision for how the whole user experience should fit together into something warm, reassuring and compelling to use.

    This contract and beyond

    We envisage that the contract will last 15-25 working days and we will pay standard commercial rates. We do not have a fixed office space, although for the duration of the contract we may hire co-working space in London for you and the FixMyTransport engineers, if required.

    Once we have established a strong working relationship with a good designer, we wish to continue that to implement redesigns across all our major sites.

    Person Specification

    Must have:

    • A portfolio of at least three web sites where you were the sole or lead designer
    • At least 2 years experience in a role that involved regular use of Photoshop or similar graphics packages for the design or mockup of web pages
    • At least 12 months experience working with software developers to implement designs (or must be a developer yourself)
    • Working knowledge of UX design, as distinct from graphic design
    • Must be resident in the UK

    Desirable qualities:

    • Prior knowledge of our services
    • Experience of iterative design based on conversion tracking

    How to Apply

    Send us an email to hello@mysociety.org briefly explaining why you’re the person for this job, and put the tag msjob8 into the subject line. Please share some of your portfolio, and write us 100 words on what sort of approach you think FixMyTransport needs from a designer. Deadline for applications is 9AM on Wednesday 2nd March.

  10. TheyWorkForYou Redesign

    Richard Pope has been redesigning mySociety’s biggest site TheyWorkForYou.com for a couple of months.

    He’s done a heroic job, as has Matthew with his epic import of Hansard data from 1935 onwards.  TheyWorkForYou is a much better site for their combined work recently. We’ll be writing more on the historic stuff soon.

    There are a few things I’d like from you as a member of the mySociety community:

    1. Please say a big thanks to Richard. This was not an easy or relaxing task at all, and he’s done it brilliantly. Just check a Lords debate to see the attention to detail. We are a very lucky organisation to have him, as he’s always in demand.

    2. Please give some constructive criticism on how it could be even better (please note, focussing on design here, we already have a load of feature priorities to deliver).

    3. Anyone who could help supply a redesigned logo, or some nicely processed parliamentary-themed artwork to sit in the background grey-boxes on the homepage would be doing a very Good Deed for mySociety.

    And lastly, please do pledge to become a TheyWorkForYou Patron, so we can keep doing things like this in the future!