I was using tabbed navigation on a couple of the Suffolk Libraries website pages. By tabbed navigation I mean a single document’s content divided by horizontal tabs, so you don’t see it all at once.

It’ll look something like this:

Tabbed navigation within a page
Tabbed navigation used to break up a single document.

Tabs might seem a good idea because they break content up, thereby making it easier to interpret. But it’s the single design element that got the most complaints after my redesign.

It’s not that users didn’t get how to use the tabs (although initial testing indicated the labels had to be clearly styled as links – in the picture above, users might have struggled identifying the tabs). No, it was simply because tabs can break the back button. Users see each tab as a separate page, when in reality they’re just parts of the same, single page. Although it might seem boring, I found in most cases it makes users’ lives a lot easier if you actually make each tab a separate page, or plump for a single, long document, and find other ways to present it.

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History repeats itself quickly in the world of web design – it seems like only yesterday we were lambasting Design Observer for its new–not–at–all–new design.

Fast forward to 2014 and we’re making the same criticisms: poor font choice, tiny, indistinct type, bugginess. Add some really slow loading and unresponsiveness and you have 2014′s version (although to be fair the site sort of adjusts to my Nexus phone – I’m guessing it sniffs rather than scales).

Screenshot of the Design Observer website
Design Observer: Let me count the ways

And yet. This website wasn’t really written for me. I’d go as far as to say I don’t even understand it.

Who exactly is it for? Older design veterans who don’t deal in the grubby functionality of fluid sized screens (i.e. designers who aren’t working class)? If that is the case then – actual crapness (the huge fixed header, the strange dropdown at the top of the screen etc.) aside – it may do its job well enough.

If you dig seeing paragraphs set in Archer on screen, and like small blocks of text, and spend your day on a Mac with a large screen, Design Observer has been designed just for you.

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Over the last few months we’ve been making two big changes to Suffolk libraries’ IT. Firstly, we’ve been installing wifi, so customers can come into a library and use their phone/laptop/tablet for free.

We’re doing the final testing at Ipswich County, Suffolk’s biggest library. You can come in and use the (very quick) wifi now – we should officially ‘launch’ the service in the next couple of weeks.

For years, libraries have provided slow, out of date Windows PCs. Customers come in and sit at banks of ugly tower computers and wait for 15 minutes while their PC logs in, before checking email, word processing, going on Facebook etc.

We’re finally replacing these PCs with a mix of high spec Dells and, more interestingly, Chrome PCs and Chromebooks.

A laptop on a desk
A Chromebook. Small, light and very fast: takes about 5s to login

So I’m writing this post (in my lunch, natch) in County Library’s fabulous Nortgate Room, under the gaze of a stainedglass Francis Bacon. I’m using a superquick laptop provided by the library and some nifty, free wifi.

Stained glass window of Francis Bacon
Ipswich County Library Northgate Room (it’s Francis Bacon, not Lord Blackadder)

This has to be the future of libraries – a free, non-commercial, flexible space where you can relax and spend a couple of hours. It beats going to a coffee shop hands down.

Now, if we did just have a cafe here too…

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England, how they failed thee, let me count the ways…

You weren’t good enough, you weren’t patriotic enough, you had no true identity, you don’t know how to play tournaments, things never change, your players are paid too much, your players don’t play enough, your players are too honest.

And so on.

Here’s a crazy idea: your coach was crap.

International tournament football is very simple. You get a lucky or unlucky draw, you select from a pool of good or not so good players, you get some good or bad luck and you play your hand accordingly. There’s no long season or youth team to consider, just (at most) 7 matches.

Roy Hodgson
Roy Hodgson remonstrates during a loss.

Now, if you look at England’s hand you’ll see it was OK. An average draw and a decent group of players. Minimum success? Round two, I’d say, although maybe the quarter finals.

No matter how poor you think the England players are, they’re better than Costa Rica and Uruguay’s. They’d never win the World Cup, but they’re probably better than Italy’s, on the whole.

Roy Hodgson’s job was to organise his players so they scored more goals than their opponents over the course of three matches. By any standard, he failed to do this remotely well.

The Italian manager resigned after failing to get out of England’s group. Even the Honduras manager resigned. Only the England manager and Fabio Capello never resign.

England’s expectations are low, so Roy escapes with his reputation in tact, even a little enhanced by the way he managed disappointment. It’s football bureacracia – where you can apply all sorts of success criteria beyond actually winning games. We’re building for the future. We have a plan. As Harry Redknapp says, Roy fits nicely into this world.

Exactly the same thing’s happened at Ipswich Town, where simply not going into administration is seen as a major source of pride. Not being deliriously happy at utter mediocrity is seen as a sign of unrealism.

So Uncle Roy bumbles around happily enough to no discernible purpose, except to be likeable, if a little longwinded, at press conferences. And then we’ll do badly at the 2016 Euro Championships.

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The longest day

Stonehenge
A circle of old stones in Wiltshire

I loved this Will Self piece on English Heritage and its demerging and museumification of Stonehenge (both are words because authors create words).

Two things:

Stonehenge stands at the centre of a complex web of ideas linking ownership, knowledge and consumption.

So Stonehenge’s meaning changes over time, and doesn’t become fixed in, say, 1920. Fittingly, we now have a neoliberal circle of stones.

And:

Given the vast timescale over which humans have interacted with the English landscape, it seems plausible that archaeologists of the distant future will concoct some narrative to unify these works with the stones themselves, perhaps one based on the astronomical alignment of the tunnel with the decayed footings of some vast M-shaped golden arches that were mysteriously erected some decades later.

You can picture deadly earnest archaeologists, trowels dangling, theorising with a glint in their eye over MacDonalds and leylines on a BBC4 Stonehenge Watch in 3145.

Despite its fantastic age Stonehenge has absolutely zero inherent meaning. Nothing in Britain, or anywhere else, does. Yet we can’t create anything exciting from Stonehenge, or find new, meaningful sites to theorise over. Might as well build a Prince Charles designed, Crest Nicolson, faux Georgian housing estate around it.

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The morality of work

On the “morality of work”:

This is the idea that people essentially have a duty to work, an inherent need to work, that work is an instrument to achieving things like self–esteem and social cohesion. Obviously, this is sort of true. What really matters here is how you define Work. What gets thought of as Work and what is “not work” becomes a real bone of contention. In our current society, care work – whether for children, siblings, relatives, friends, strangers – is not considered Work. Housework is not considered Work. Study is not Work. Charity is not Work. Social work is not Work. But all these things are inherent in social cohesion, they are just not valued particularly highly as far as financial reward goes. —Basic Income Summer Forum

This is only partly right. If we’re being honest, most people – apart from politicians when they’re arguing for things like workfare – don’t see work in such romantic terms. It’s not a route to self–esteem, social cohesion etc. etc.

Work for most people is above all else hard, something that has to be done in order to pay the bills. Antipathy to Basic Income (or any form of benefit) comes from the view that because I have to work hard to buy food and pay the gas bill, you shouldn’t get free money from me. That’s the morality of work.

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Just in case you were wondering how it’s done:

[Vodafone] has parked losses of around £70 billion in Luxembourg. These are not real losses, but paper ones, from the acquisition of various companies, including the German engineering and telecommunications company, Mannesmann, in 2000. However, under Luxembourg’s tax system, this paper loss miraculously produces a tax ‘credit’ of £17.4 billion! Vodafone’s Tax Credit of £17.4 billion

Assuming a company will always try and find the most favourable tax regime, what’s the answer to this problem? (If, like me, you do indeed think it is a problem.) Is it to shame the company into handing over tax? How likely will this work?

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Liked this picture of an 18th century book Conjectures on Original Composition by Edward Young:

A narrow 18th century book
From Collision Detection

It shows how resilient we are as readers – we can deal with any ‘difficult’ measure. Another possible similarity between now and then is the sheer mass of the stuff we’re publishing; a fact plenty will bemoan, but I rather like this democratic, unpretentious fecundity (he said, pretentiously…) Also chimes with something I wrote many moons ago.

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