rob waller

Monday, August 18, 2014

'Write as you would speak.' But not you, man on the train.

One end of a phone conversation, heard on the train:
"We need to discuss which people we can leverage in each work stream in terms of capability uplift."

Apparently people really do say things like that, aloud, to other people, throwing into doubt the traditional advice on clear writing: 'write as you would speak'. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

World Cup brand values: the classical elements in action

Apparently the World Cup in Brazil has four brand values: Freedom, Solidarity, Passion and Diversity. This perfectly demonstrates my pet theory that most sets of corporate values fit the classic elements: Fire, Earth, Water, Air.

There's usually one about warmth or passion. Clearly that's Fire. And there's usually one about being real or grounded. That's Earth.

Air represents freedom, flexibility, creativity or imagination. Water represents nourishment, responsibility or caring, and I'm including the World Cup's 'Diversity' value here.

Working with Vodafone some years ago, I remember their first two values as Red and Rock Solid (no prizes for guessing which elements there). Their third and final value was Restless (Air). But as a customer I could sometimes have wished they had a Water value too.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Through the window

When you design a document for delivery in a window envelope, always check the post office guidance. It's important that no private information appears in the window along with the address.

Mail received by my son today. From the Post Office.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Which way to the metro?

We encountered this sign at Copenhagen airport recently, looking for the metro.

I went for the at-a-glance visual cluster and headed for the left. Jenny saw the horizontal grid, and headed for the right. I eventually followed.

The Copenhagen metro: a serious place for serious people

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Over- and under-achieving

Reading University are asking alumni for donations to a bursary fund to celebrate Professor Michael Twyman's 80th birthday. He is still active as a teacher and researcher in the typography department, has just published a 728 page comprehensive history of chromolithography, and has been an inspiration to me since my interview for a place on his course in 1970.

If you want to support the bursary fund, the URL is

Be prepared for a slightly comical experience. To select your title - Mr or Ms, of example - you have to scroll down a list of choices that make you feel something of an underachiever. Of course, compared to Michael most of us are exactly that.

And I've never been asked to choose my county from a list that includes not only Berkshire but Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Information Design Journal - first notes

While I was looking for the first conference programme, I came across these coffee-stained notes I made in 1978, about the journal that was launched in 1979 as Information Design Journal.

Information Design Conference 1984 - the programme

I've been looking through old archives looking for visual evidence of the first Information Design Conference (Cranfield, 1984). The 2014 Information Design Conference in London is the thirtieth anniversary of that first event  - here's the programme, printed on an Epson dot-matrix printer.

Dublin signs

Now wash your hands

There's a very effective eeeuw factor in this notice in a Royal College of Art toilet. I don't know who did it, but give them a prize.

Tired and tested

Two nice typos came my way today.

"Using tired and tested methods..." So true!

"I taught we were planning to..." This one has to be said in an Irish accent, and it's revealed as a homophone.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Drawing the line

International sign standards use a red circle to prohibit whatever is depicted inside. This isn't intuitive enough, so many add a diagonal red line... but of course this obscures part of the pictogram. So I like the way these signs on the Luas light rail system in Dublin run the red line behind the pictogram.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Signs of January

Signs seen this month.

Full marks to Gatwick Airport for these large 'print' flight information displays. You can see from a long way away, and if your sight's not too good you can get close enough to read them.

I stared at this sign in the back of a Dublin taxi. If I'm going to the airport I'm in the taxi, am I not? To be sure.

The words clear up a mystery that's been in the air on this blog since I posted this one

I don't know why they need a warning sign. It's obvious that if you let go to scratch your arse, you're going to drop the box.

This was on a train, and the magnets stop the lid dropping down. But I'm curious about the risk analysis that led to this sign. 

Legal information design

As distinct from the illegal sort...

This post is to plug a conference we've organized on the topic of Clear Legal Information (the title we settled on). It's on 9 April, in London, following on from the Information Design Association conference.

Tickets are still available (not surprising as I put them on sale about an hour ago).

Mind you, if I ruled the world some kinds of information design would be illegal.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Ageing boomers

A few weeks ago I posted a moan about ageist ads on Facebook. Then I posted about some instructions I couldn't understand. 

Now I get an email from the University of Cambridge Engineering Department advertising courses on inclusive design. As they put it, "Poorly considered design affects millions of people in the UK and worldwide – in particular, the ageing, baby-boomer generation – who have difficulty using everyday products and services, from mobile phones and food packaging to telephone banking" 

Ah, I get it now. For years, we baby boomers, born in the years after the war, were the rock and roll generation, the hippies who broke the mould. I think we were probably the generation who developed personal computers and the internet. But now we're hitting our sixties, we are old people 'who have difficulty using everyday products and services'. 

Sorry, Clas Ohlson, it isn't you, it's me. I will ask the next young person who comes to our house to programme that timer for me.

 If you want to know more about that Cambridge course (they are very good), the link is

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Baffled but whose fault?

I recently bought a timer device from Clas Ohlson, the Swedish household store that's opened a branch in my town.

I have been completely defeated in my attempts to set it up. The first evening I put this down to tiredness, so I tried again in the morning.

There seem to me to be four possibilities:

  • 1. the timer is faulty
  • 2. the timer is faulty because I hurled it across the room
  • 3. the instructions are not clear
  • 4. I am too dim to understand the instructions.
My question is: am I entitled to a refund? Yes, if option 1 is true, but how do I prove it? But shouldn't I also be refunded if either option 3 or 4 is true, since the product (the switch and its instructions) are not usable by me (the customer of average intelligence). And perhaps also if option 2 is true because it is the inevitable outcome.

Have a look for yourself. I think the giveaway is the warning at the beginning.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Inconsistent scale alert

Check out the scale on this graphic from The Guardian's website. I hope they're not suggesting that 40 men are worth 60 women.

Reasons to avoid Facebook

Ageist targeted advertising. And it goes on... annuity calculator, river cruises

Sunday, December 15, 2013

More stupid questions

More stupid security questions, this time from the Transport for London Oyster card website.

I'm surprised the first question doesn't have a drop-down menu offering 'Fatso / Spotty / Dweeb / Stinker'.

When I appeared at school wearing spectacles for the first time, a rather old-fashioned teacher took to calling me 'gig lamps', but I'm not planning to share that with Oyster thanks very much.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Wednesday, December 04, 2013


Aaaaaaargh! No! No! No! Please don't tell the Apostrophe Society about this sign in the Charing Cross Hospital.

Thanks to Sallie Morris for sending me this.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Getting naked in Glasgow?

Please dispose of your pants in designated receptacles.

Why is so much market research incompetent?

Everyone now and then I get sent a questionnaire, and I try to help by responding. Today I got one from All Bar One (bar + food chain), who said I'd used their wifi recently (i.e., that's how they got my name).

These questionnaires almost always have an impossible question. In this case it was 'how often do you eat out at All Bar One'. The answer is 'never', which means all the follow-up questions are impossible. I can lie, or I can crash out.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Two signs

From Syros. Excellent flying wheelchair, and the little girl and her dad seem very cheerful. Well, I hope it's her dad.

The information design summer school remembered

We've just back from the Information Design summer school on the island of Syros. Here's our happy band of participants, and some scenes from the course and the island. We organised it in partnership with our hosts, the University of the Aegean, and the IIID. A very memorable week.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Hygiene factors

In the UK, restaurants are inspected for hygiene and given a sticker which, according the Food Standards Agency, they are 'encouraged to display on their door'.

You never, ever, see one of these displayed.

But you see quite a lot of these.

There doesn't seem much point in the scheme if the outcomes aren't public - or do we conclude that no sticker means they are too embarrassed to tell us their rating?

Monday, September 02, 2013

Ghost website

Clicking on a link in an old document, I accidentally discovered that our old website from around 2001 is still there, sitting on a server somewhere - not sure where exactly.

Still doing the same kind of stuff - consistent or just unimaginative? Don't answer that.


Thursday, August 22, 2013

Really? That's what you think?

Heard in a meeting where we were discussing local authority forms:
"The trouble is that you keeping thinking about the users and their problems, and not about us".

Good sign writer

Thanks to Cheryl Stephens for the link to this story in the Vancouver Sun. Cheryl runs the very active and useful Plain Language Advocates LinkedIn group.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

No reply

I just made a donation online to Macmillan Cancer Care in memory of an old friend who died recently. The small print says that they'll put me on a mailing list and send me stuff, unless I write to ask them not to.

Thinking that I get enough charity mail already, I emailed them to ask them not to communicate. So I did enjoy their reply, from one of those 'no reply@' email addresses:

"Thank you very much for contacting Macmillan.  A member of the Supporter Donations team will be in touch with you within 2 working days."

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Défense de Tintin

I've heard Tintin is a little out of style these days, and not politically correct. He's definitely not welcome in this park in Paris.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Direction of travel

Some trains on the Hong Kong metro have diagrams like this: the remaining stations on your journey light up (in this case, Mong Kok, Prince Edward and Sham Shui Po) and one set of directional arrows ripple round to show you the direction of travel. There is also a light (not in this photo) to tell you which side the doors will open at the next station. Nice one. 

Sunday, April 07, 2013

iPhoto's new goddess recognition feature

iPhoto likes to spot faces, and put a name to them. So I need to tell it this is the Goddess of Mercy from the temple at Repulse Bay, Hong Kong.

Step forward

You see this sign quite a lot in China, but it's nothing to do with the 5 year plan. At least you see it a lot if you are male, because it's found on urinals.

Showing and saying

On our recent visit to China, I kept noticing Chinese characters that seem to depict what they say. I think I'm right in saying that 'entrance' is written using characters that both look like and mean 'person' and 'gate' (literally, 'mouth', I was told).

But apparently it's just coincidence that the first character below looks like a toilet...

Here's the corresponding icon for Exit. Almost a new ideogram in itself.

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