Physical Distancing: Everyone is Different; Let’s Be Kind

Poster on phsical distancing and visual impairment for a WHO call for submissions on physical distancing.
Click on image for full size.


Poster on phsical distancing and visual impairment for a WHO call for submissions on physical distancing.
Click on image for full size.

This image was co-designed with Francisco de la Mora. We produced it in response to this call by the World Health Organisation to “use any creative medium” to produce work that captures one of their coronavirus key messages:

  • Personal Hygiene
  • Physical Distancing
  • Know the symptoms
  • Kindness contagion
  • Myth-busting
  • Do more, donate

We decided to address the “Kindness contagion” key message whilst referring to physical distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. We believe the message can also be applied for more general situations. The audience are people without visual impairment.

The image is an output from ongoing user-centred research with visually-impaired participants, and reflects the actual experience of a visually-impaired person going shopping under COVID-19 social distancing measures.

We consulted experts on accessibility and followed accessible design guidelines (colour, contrast, layout). So far most of the social distancing measures have been communicated through mostly ableist means that exclude the visually impaired (like the sign on the window in the poster; see for example this post by the Royal National Institute of Blind People).

Our main message is that physical/social distancing is harder or more complex for the visually impaired- there is a need for kindness when observing physical distancing measures because everyone is different.

The lettering is hand-drawn but we could draw the same message (or adaptations of it) in different languages. With many thanks to the colleagues and participants we consulted with and who provided us with feedback during the different iterations in the production of this image.

As required by the WHO call, our submission was uploaded here as a PSD file (layered; large version) and here as a JPG file (to fit Instagram etc).

If you like it or think the message is important, please share this post with the hashtags #UNCovid19Brief  and #ViralKindness or #KindnessContagion. Thanks in advance.


[NB. This post does not replace nor preempts other outputs about or from our ongoing work on visual impairment during the pandemic].

Who Are You and What Are Your Superpowers? Creating Student Trading Cards

This term I am leading a “supermodule” (undergraduate and postgraduate students combined) on User-Centred Systems Design. We had our first session on Monday morning first thing.

Sometimes we may underestimate the importance of ice-breaking activities and of getting to know each other at the beginning of a course/module. I feel like the increased costs of higher education have created a perception that any activities done in class that do not appear to be immediately related to the content of the lecture are a “waste of time”. However in order to make the most of an educational experience we need to attempt to design such experience by helping to create the circumstances that will allow students and staff to make the most of it.

It is hard to expect student engagement (their focused attention, participation via comments and questions, effective working in pairs or groups) if we haven’t made an effort to learn about each other (even if to a limited degree) and try to create an environment of trust. This trust will need to be developed over the term but we can begin to do that by making the time to introduce each other and to learn a bit more about our general and specific expectations.

Activities where students are asked to meet each other (let alone work with each other) can be very hard for different students for a plethora of reasons (I won’t go into those here). In my experience it does help if the activity introduces them to the skills and strategies that are included in the module’s learning objectives. It also helps if the activity is structured, rather than left to the students’ own devices (“talk amongst yourselves”).

Since the module I am leading provides an introduction to User-centred Design Activities, I aimed to fulfill various objectives in one through a “student trading card” creation ice-breaking activity.

The motivations behind the activity were:

  • To contribute to breaking the ice between students and staff through a dynamic, engaging activity
  • To prompt students to talk to each other in order to get to know each other better beyond those they already know
  • To help me as module leader to know my students’ needs better
  • To prompt students to reflect on the relationships between information architecture and layout, and between form and content- how the design of a template demands a particular type of data entry
  • To introduce students to qualitative data collection via an in-person interview
  • To prompt students to reflect on three personal and/or professional “superpowers” i.e. something they feel they are good at, prompting the rehearsal of positive thinking by focusing on diverse skills
  • To prompt students to reflect on a personal and/or professional “weakness” i.e. an area of activity, knowledge or skill they wish to improve

With this requirements in mind I designed the activity reusing a very basic blank “trading card” template, which I printed out copies of, to hand them out to students, one each. I also had extra A4 blank paper to hand out and pens in case they were needed.

I introduced the activity and provided a summary of the instructions on the screen as a slide:

Trading Card activity slide

While I introduced the activity I got students to reflect on where they thought each answer should go on the form. No one, for example, suggested the name should go in the bottom box- but there were different views on what the top left circle and top right rectangle could contain. By doing this we were already very loosely anticipating content we will see later in the course, such as hierarchical analysis and user research activities such as semi-structured interviews, questionnaires and data collection.

What we meant by “superpowers” and “weaknesses” had to be defined- things we felt we were good at and things we though we needed/wanted to improve. It was important to not constrain these too much, allowing students to reflect on their own views on what their three “superpowers” and one “weakness” could be and to feedback each other about them. For example often during the conversations “weaknesses” could be turned into superpowers under the right circumstances. The main thing is to focus on the positives and to instill a sense that improvement is possible.

It was great to see the students engaged with the activity and ended up collecting more student trading cards than the single one I initially anticipated. As we were pressed for time we did not follow up the activity by getting students to actually “trade” the cards as a way to then find the students they represented, nor did I encourage students to draw “profile pictures” of their interviewees (some students did this without being prompted to).

I asked volunteers to feedback on the activity. They shared they found it enjoyable, had met colleagues they had not met properly before. I asked them about what they had found challenging about the activity, and indeed they shared that some had found it way harder to think of their own strengths and easier to think of their own weaknesses… or easier to think of personal “superpowers” than strictly “professional” ones. Feedback agreed that students “felt better” once they had their own cards read back to them.  Some students regretted we had not had time to be more creative designing each other’s trading cards, adding illustrations, colour, etc.

We discussed how even those “superpowers” we ourselves could think of as not relevant to our professional practice could be easily transferred or useful to enhance it. I emphasised how they all had collected data from fellow participants using a standardised data collection template following a semi-structured interview, and that though this was an informal exercise giving us but a tiny glimpse of what talking to people for research purposes could be like, the module will go into detail on how to conduct user research using a range of practical methods. We also drew parallels between the trading card template and other user-centred design activities we will cover during the module, such as personas and wireframing.

What I wanted to do was to apply interaction design principles to the activity. As in that session we would cover usability and user experience, I wanted the activity to be enjoyable, fun, entertaining, motivating, aesthetically-pleasing and rewarding. The positive feedback from students during and after the lecture gave me an indication we might have achieved precisely that!

For this activity all you need is sheets of paper and pens- students can sketch their own templates. Unidrectional, hierarchical, non-dynamic classroom activities can be disempowering- and students of different educational levels (for example undergraduate and postgraduate) can feel apprehensive about their own skills,  and most of the times do fail to make students become protagonists (“heroes”) of their own stories, making them feel dependent on external guidance and afraid of taking independent decisions. Allowing a safe space to reflect on our individual abilities (“superpowers”), to see each others as heroes of our own stories, without forgetting about those areas we would like to improve, can hopefully provide an initial step towards greater student empowerment.

Inaugural meeting of the Comics, Games & Media Research Group & First Blog Post

Panel from “Traitors to the Earth”, Captain Science #1, November 150; pencils by Gustav Schrotter, edited by Adolphe Barreaux. Public domain.
Panel from “Traitors to the Earth”, Captain Science #1, November 150; pencils by Gustav Schrotter, edited by Adolphe Barreaux. Public domain.

We had the inaugural meeting of the City HCID Comics, Games & Media Research Group this week!

The Comics, Games & Media Research Group is dedicated to exploring the interconnections between interaction design and narrative media.

The Group’s membership is comprised by academic staff and research students at the Centre for Human-Computer Interaction Design and the City Interaction Lab at City, University of London.

The group is particularly interested in narrative and speculative design activities that employ a variety of comics, games and related media as components of interaction design thinking.

The first session of the Comics, Games & Media Research Group took place on Wednesday 20th November 2019.

I have set up a blog for the group and made a first post to document our first meeting. More updates lined up.

I have copied and pasted the text of our first post below.

Launching the City HCID Comics, Games & Media Research Group

Photo of the inaugural meeting table on 2019-11-20 at 15.15.41

On Wednesday 20th November 2020 we held the inaugural meeting of the Comics, Games & Media Research Group at the Centre for Human-Computer Interaction Design at City, University of London.

This is a busy time of the academic year and we had a quorum of 6 members of HCID, with the membership still being dynamic and open. We took the opportunity to discuss our expectations for the group, our respective backgrounds and interests in the domains relevant to the group and discussed the next steps.

The launching of this group follows the beginning of the AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Project in partnership with the British Library, “UK Digital Comics: from creation to consumption” last month (there will be updates about that on this site soon).

Founded by Ernesto Priego and Stuart Scott, the Group is particularly interested in narrative and speculative design activities that employ a variety of comics, games and related media as components of interaction design thinking. (There will also be updates about that!)

The Group has clear objectives of research grant capture, developing scholarly outputs, and organising and hosting academic and enterprise events.

Stay tuned, for there will hopefully be more news soon.


Sobre co-diseño para recursos digitales en el sector cultural – Rostros del tiempo, 2o Coloquio de Vida Cotidiana en México

Hoy martes 3 de septiembre del 2019 participaré en el Segundo Coloquio de Vida Cotidiana en México, “Rostros del tiempo” a las 13:30hrs, en el Museo de Arte de la SHCP, Moneda 4, Centro Histórico, Ciudad de México. Entrada libre.

Mi presentación sintetizará aproximaciones de las ciencias sociales, el diseño interactivo o diseño centrado en el usuario (HCID) y las humanidades digitales explorando qué métodos podemos utilizar para buscar integrar más sustentablemente la vida cotidiana en México y los recursos digitales abiertos en el sector cultural mexicano.

Las principales preguntas que guiarán mi presentación serán:


  • ¿De qué hablamos cuando hablamos de “recursos” digitales en el sector cultural?
  • ¿Qué tipo de contextos, y qué tipo de instituciones y recursos digitales tenemos?
  • ¿Cómo puede contribuir la disciplina del diseño interactivo, o diseño centrado en el usuario (HCI; UX) a ‘conectar’ los recursos digitales con el público en su vida cotidiana?
  • ¿Qué significaría diseñar para conectar con usuarios de un modo sustentable y específico al contexto local?



El programa completo abajo.

Rostros del tiempo. Programa. Talleres.

Rostros del tiempo. Coloquio. Programa

Es un honor estar de vuelta en México para participar en este evento.

MakeWrite: Supporting Writing with Constrained Creativity

MakeWrite screenshot

I am pleased to announce that the INCA project has now launched MakeWrite, an iPad app that was co-designed by and for people with aphasia (a language difficulty following brain injury).

The app offers an accessible way for anyone to create and share texts in English. However, you don’t need to live with aphasia to try it out. Users can use existing text to make their own new piece of creative writing in four simple stages: choose, erase, arrange and share.

It was launched yesterday as part of UNESCO’s World Poetry Day.
This is its first release- it is a worldwide release for all iPad models, but if you are not in the UK and you experience difficulties downloading please do let us know- there should be no problems though.

Needless to say I’d personally love to see a multilingual MakeWrite, and of course one with a wider variety of source texts and an Android version too.

Link to the release on iTunes: 

Find out more about the INCA Project at