The joys of getting it right (and Janet)

I am so, so happy. I sat down with the lovely Jiri last week (yes, Jiri, if you are reading this, you are totally lovely and I will keep my promise to buy you a two litre bottle of Diet Coke to drink at the Christmas party) to go through a little featurette that he had been adding. It wasn’t an amazing thing: it was just an infographic tool so people could see exactly what proportion of people had taken sick days against standard benchmarks. You could compare people to other people in your practice, other people in that role in the UK and other people of your age, gender etc.  So the practice manager would see (this is a random example that has no basis in statistical truth) that nurses in their practice take more sick days than GPS, and try and track it as to whether that was because nurses in general take more sick days than GPs, and if so, is that because nurses are women of such and such an age, whereas doctors are a different demographic.

So we’re going to market it as a tool to see where you might be able to improve things: see if there are particular problems in your practice where people might be overly stretched, or to see whether there are things you could do to make things a bit more adaptable, or whether someone is consistently taking off more days and so on and so forth. It’s not full on accurate stats, but it gives overviews and places to look.

And Jiri had set it up so it would virtually do somersaults with a sugar cube balanced on its nose. But, to be able to get it to do the somersaults, you had to be incredibly precise and accurate and lay out the exact mix gradient, including opacity, xy grid lines and the exact height of the Great Pyramid in pixels.

And he demonstrated all of this stuff too me, and we discussed what the average user… as tribute to one of my best and coolest friends ever, I’m going to call her Janet. Janet is, of course, clever and funny (just like the real Janet) and a dab hand with numbers (ditto), but she’s got into practice management from a nursing background (ok, real Janet, this is veering a little bit from reality) and while she is brilliant at the HR side of it, she would prefer not to have to fiddle with computers. Her ideal is that she sets things up once a year, and they then work. And she doesn’t have to set up anything she doesn’t need to. So Janet would love the idea of a quick overview of where her nurses were doing against the UK norm (because she obviously knows who’s actually doing what on the ground), but she doesn’t have the time or interest to waste on tweaking grayscales (and if she did, she would point out that’s not what she’s supposed to be doing or what the practice can afford).

And Jiri, (yes, you, I’m so happy….) understood. And I did a nice big poster for the Janet persona, and stuck it on the wall, and there is this new mantra in the office, “Would Janet care?”. And there are basic sensible defaults for everything, and all the tailoring is tucked behind a big curtain so it’s only there if you actually want to look at it and it’s grouped by function and it’s lovely. And I am bouncing up and down (must be all the additives in the diet coke) because it’s working, it’s working and I feel I have actually done something useful.

The problems of legacy code

Did I tell you that Gavin had written most of the original code for the system? A solid mass of C++ with unlimited overloading. For any of you out there who don’t know the full joys of C==, it works on the idea of creating objects with associated behaviours. So if you say “Go!” to a car object, it drives, and if you say “Go!” to a horse object, it gallops, and if you say “Go|” to a bird object if flies. That is, they can either use a default “Go!” behaviour (say, run) or you can write a special “Go!” behaviour for them  if running isn’t the right thing to do.

But this can mean that you don’t know what they’re actually going to do. And you might not dare change it, because perhaps someone’s “Go!” behaviour is skate, and when you take out all that pointless skating rink code that someone has put in there, the whole program breaks because at some point, something needs there to be a skating rink, but you don’t know which one or why or what.

Anyway, this is the reason why they never bloody change anything. They daren’t. Because if you try and change it the whole damn thing might fall down arse over tip on that damn skating rink.

Anyway, there was a team meeting today, with me and Ian and all of the other lovely lovely lovely developers. And we were reading the customer comments to try and decide what are actual priorities. And it was blatantly obvious that they just wanted something that was dead simple to use and connected to all the other dead simple things they wanted to use. And Gavin said “But they need to be able to do X”. And I lost it. And I siad “No, they don’t” Maybe one person does and makes a big fuss about it. But they are not our customer base. They are a sad geeky person who you like going drinking with.”

Our customer base has too much else to do to spend any time being geeky.

OK, I admit it, that was a very very poor exhibition on my part. I should be endlessly diplomatic. It did make Mr Grumpy laugh. I could hear him sniggering happily in the corner. And bearded Nick tried to tie himself in a knot because he always gets terribly uncomfortable if people disagree with the god of impenetrable code who is none the less the big boss. And Jiri just wants to re-write the whole thing from scratch because he despises messy code. He doesn’t want to make it any less impenetrable as far as I know, he just wants to make it superbly efficient. Christian Jack (maybe I should call him CJ) goes into a bit of a “let me dribble sort of bouncy bouncy puppy who wants to fetch the ball” look. And Gavin lost his temper.

Organisational accidents. Who needs them?

Boring post alert. In fact extremely boring post alert. I’ve just read this through and realise this is probably the most boring post I have written so far. I’ll leave it up so that I have a standard to measure my ennui against.

I’ve been diminished on the humour front and distracting myself by thinking about organisational issues (the subject of this post) because David has just required another feature in the software. Even though the code base was supposedly frozen. So the product release is going to be delayed a bit longer. The interface is being changed as well. Instead of creating pictures, they’re providing ambiguous text comments – because it’s so quick to dash off an email saying move that button over to the left a bit. Create a picture, fellows. Yes, it takes a little while (not long, honest) but it’s one person’s time. And it will save the other person’s time trying to decipher your comments, and your own time while you explain them in greater detail and then come over and waste their time while you show them exactly what you meant. Draw the picture – or even just print a screen shot and scribble on the damn thing.

OK. That’s the end of the software process rant. Now there is a bit of  uninspired writing about the individual/system model of error.

I’ve just received a book that I ordered:”Managing the Risks of Organisational Accidents” by James Reason. James Reason is famous in the world of ergonomics and safety management, especially for the Swiss Cheese model. (Swiss cheese, in this case, referring to the sort with holes in it rather than any other type of cheese from Switzerland. If you fancy imagining it as a series of bubbles in a fondue, I won’t stop you.)

I have no specific reason to buy this book, but I wanted to re-read it, and that seemed the easiest way of doing it. (Given that for some reason it’s not available next to Ian Rankin in the local library.) I was looking for a diagram (and I can’t remember if it is in this book or a book by Sidney Dekker) about the requirement to have lots of little accidents to maintain safety. If you have a spotless record, you are then more likely to have a catastrophic accident, as you tend to more and more risky behaviour, cutting corners, because it has all been fine so far. Reason (or Dekker) describes it as those moments when you veer away from driving in the centre of your line, and are brought fully back to attention by a near miss, or the juddering as you go over cats eyes. (I’m paraphrasing here, because I haven’t found the specific paragraph yet). So it is that grab at your attention that ensures that you don’t drift off to sleep and find yourself meeting a wedding party coming the other way, with extremely unfortunate consequences for the bridal wear.

What is most intriguing about Reason’s books (I’m going from Human Error to The Human Contribution) is the movement of the balance point between individual responsibility and organisational/system responsibility.  This is a non-trivial question, and goes to the heart of many people’s beliefs, politics et cetera. How much do you control your actions, and how much does your environment control you? It can go back to the nature/nurture debate, or even the predestination/free will question.

One of the things you get taught to do when considering UI design is to make it easy for someone to take a specific path. You provide them with clear signposts. Some systems (notably IKEA store design) will make it significantly more difficult to take a route that is not the one intended by the designers. Others (such as some road signage) will merely make it more obvious to take one route rather than another. If you are following the road signs to Cambridge station, and they direct you round the ring road rather than through the town, are you making an active choice to follow that route? If the signposted route means that you avoid a notorious accident blackspot, are the accidents that don’t occur a consequence of the signage? Is anyone ever aware that their life may have been saved by though an accident that didn’t happen?

What about if the signs take you through that accident blackspot?

Who is responsible for the accident that occurs. The council that accepted the poor road design, the drivers who weren’t concentrating, the person who set up the signage that sent people there straight off the motorway? People tend to get stuck on the last part of the chain of factors – like a game of “Touch last”. In fact, we are all playing Jenga. The same action that was safe when there was a complete row of blocks beneath your block is no longer safe. The action itself hasn’t changed but the circumstances round it have.

So to go back to my original position, I haven’t changed, but the circumstances surrounding me have. For example, the cat is now within strike distance.

All the happy penguins

The penguins, in this case, are those made from two olives, cream cheese and a carrot slice held together with a cocktail stick. They look amazing. They don’t taste particularly nice, but that’s not really the point.

And that’s an interesting question? Why is it not the point? It’s party food, made out of edible ingredients, so should the taste not be at least as important as the look of the thing? Well, should it?

What is the function of food? I’m going to wamble a bit here, because I think it out as I go along, and I see no reason why I should refine my woolly thinking for the purposes of a blog post. If you want coherent incisive remarks, you’ll have to buy the book, or the report ,or a dinner, followed by a subtitled film and tequila cocktails on every bridge in Bristol.

The obvious function of food is nourishment. You can’t survive without it, but equally obviously that’s not why we eat. Imagine the simplicity of life if one only ate for nourishment, the same food every day, containing the same necessary ingredients and as easy to prepare as possible so we can spend our lives doing more interesting stuff (I appear to have just described Iceland mini pizzas).

Obviously food is surrounded by a whole set of anthropological rituals and pleasures. Food is a point where human beings interface with the world and each other. It is loaded with sensory stimulation, touch and taste and smell, the way it looks, in some cases the way it sounds (think of the sizzle as something hits a hot frying-pan or the satisfying squelch as your spoon digs deep into the heart of a really rich chocolate mousse). Food manufacturers are attempting to trigger all these responses before you buy the stuff, loading their packaging with pictures and even odours to get you to desire that food, to stimulate memories or associate it with happy experiences.

And there are all the myths about food, whether it is the revivifying effects of chicken soup or the dogs eaten by other tribes. Food defines our bodies, because it is used to build them, but it also defines our identities. It even defines our countries. For example, we have cities that are built close to rivers because people needed water for drinking and transport, and in fertile areas because people needed to farm. In different periods of history, countries have tried to develop food self-reliance (by encouraging people to farm or garden) or use food as a way of balancing payments. There is food as status symbol and class divider. Food is a deep part of our personal narratives. where possible we choose what we eat and we think that this choice is integral to our identity.

So what is the function of decorative penguins? Well, they give pleasure, they make people smile, they are a talking point. There are equivalent to the butterfly garnish (also constructed from a carrot) that I saw in Amsterdam. They delight the eye. And they are satisfying in their transience. You can’t keep an olive penguin for very long. They make few demands on your life. They make few demands on your cooking skills. They show respect for your guests (some human being has spent the time constructing these items).

I agree, it would probably be better if they tasted superb, but you’re not going to be disappointed in the taste, because you would not have had many expectations. They’re so obviously an amusement, that you know that you have been satisfied by the sight of them.

Of course, if they were all you had to eat, you might want a little more – perhaps some seasoning. And a better quality of olive. But until then, we can enjoy food that is not food, it is a ritual object symbolising party values. So long as there is something that tastes nice as well. Pass along those Iceland mini-pizzas please.

Yay, it’s Friday

It’s late. I’ve just been to see Jeremy Hardy in Cirencester. I remember seeing him many years ago and what saddens me is that his targets haven’t changed. Because things have just got worse around them. It’s Friday night so I’m not going to write about usability, I’m having a party tomorrow and I have been making vol au vents. This was entirely inspired by a trip to Waitrose where a pack of twelve mini vol au vents cost £4.99. “I can do that for a fraction of the price” I thought (indeed, but it was probably a vulgar fraction, perhaps even improper).

The big difference between the Waitrose vol au vents and my own are – I bet they didn’t make theirs with a scone cutter and a milk bottle top. I would like to claim that I had cut out my vol au vents using a white wine glass and a champagne glass, but being realistic, that would have made massive vol au vents. I used the smaller of my two scone cutters and the top off a two litre milk flask? flagon? plastic bottle? what’s the right term? I did want to use a champagne glass. I took a beautiful champagne glass down from the shelf (the only beautiful champagne glass left) and discovered a truth about optical illusion that we had been taught in applied cognitive science. Champagne glasses look slenderer than scone cutters, but actually, the diameter is virtually identical. So there (which explains why Danni Harmer is accused of being fat on Strictly Come Dancing), she’s not fat, people, she’s short.

And as if inspired by the champagne glass example, the empty vol au vent cases expanded in the oven. They over-reached themselves and curled over like looping caterpillars. Waitroses’s vol au vent cases were approximately equivalent to a Norman church. Mine were a cross between the Gherkin, the leaning tower of Pisa and a decidedly detumescent willy. I fear that when I fill them they will dribble.

I also counted up the people I have invited to this party and discovered it is definitely over forty. I admit, I have bought a new flatline telly (see last post) so that people can watch Strictly Come Dancing as the party warm-up experience. That should, of course, be flatscreen. flat-line is a serious medical problem. Actually, a slightly less serious waste disposal problem. However, returning to a small room which already contains, two chairs, a sofa, and enough free space left to insert a TV but not rotate it; I reckon that given an ability to sit with one’s legs crossed in the patient posture of primary-school pupils, we could possibly fit nine people in the sitting room (given an ordered arrangement of entry and exit). Forty will be an interesting challenge. I hope they’re not Strictly fans.

Usability in your private life

We have just upgraded to a new television. A 32″ Samsung smart TV. It feels enormous. I hasten to add that the only reason that we did this was to be able to watch cats falling off sofas in high definition. After all, what other reason could there be? Apart from watching people walk into lampposts.

The sad thing about being a usability engineer is that you look at controls all the time. And the Samsung ones are dreadful. The manual tells you which connector for which input – excellent. Except it does this by having a little diagram of a connector (HDMI, USB etc) and it doesn’t tell you where the damn thing is on the television. Or even in relation to the other connections. There is no helpful location information such as – the USB connector is on the side and the Ethernet is the third on the left. And you have to remember that this is a large item and I have a small house. You really want to have it set up and then plug in the cables so you can squeeze them into the available space. Instead, what you have to do is drag this smooth black item over to the light source, stare at all the little slots and try and work out which one is which one, according to the label. Presumably they envisaged it being set up by someone with a head torch in a warehouse, rather than in a small sitting room with subtle mood lighting and no space to turn the screen round.

Anyway, this could generally have been seen to be successful, the TV works, connects to the internet, connects to my netbook, and we can get YouTube on it. But the handset is dreadful. It has an up/down/left/right set of arrows, with an enter button at the centre point of the cross. (No, I’m not going to take a photo and upload it – be grateful that I’m even typing) and there is absolutely no haptic information that tells you which the entry key is. I have already made several million erros by getting the entry key instead of the down key when I am attempting to move from Samsung’s default plan (Family TV or something equally inappropriate) and go straight to YouTube. I am developing a hatred for this. And you can’t change (as far as I can tell) what the default SmartTV option is. It  has the “Samsung-approved” set of options in BIG icons, and the other apps in little icons. And you can rearrange the little icons and put them in folders, but you are stuck with the BIG icons. Pah, I hate it.

But the good stuff is – yes, I can fritter away hours of my life in watching people fall off ladders.

The joys of cardboard

Yes, I did not write anything yesterday. I suppose I should start upping the blog’s excitement to build up a devoted fan base, but let’s face it, why would I want a devoted fan base.

So what happened yesterday that kept me so busy?

I gave a presentation (Yay!). This was supposed to have the twofold benefit of encouraging people to prototype to “define the design space” and also remind people that I do exist, I do care about usability and I am an exciting, rewarding and entertaining speaker.

Any of you people out there want I an exciting, rewarding and entertaining speaker? What, neither of you? Oh well, keep me in mind when you want to enthuse about the joys of cardboard.

Joys of cardboard, you enquire, what could possibly be joyous about cardboard? Well, plenty. It’s low-tech, it’s cheap, it’s flexible, and it’s perfect for rapid prototyping. With the aid of a lot of Sellotape and a Stanley knife you can create almost anything. Of course, it won’t work, (well, unless it’s a cardboard chair or a speedway track for rats), but it gives people ideas. And it clarifies your own ideas. And you can do fitting trials on it.

(Fitting trial, what on earth is a fitting trial, you enquire, that merely recalls the days when my sister was practising her dress-making skills upon me and involved me standing still for long periods while pins were inserted in random places including my flesh). A fitting trial is a practical test to check what can or cannot be reached by the population that you are dealing with. So, you set the percentage of the population that you expect to use your device, age, sex, disability etc, and you check to see if they can, can that unusually tall chap see the screen? Can that bent over elderly person reach the buttons? And so on and so on. There is a useful book called Bodyspace by a chap called Stephen Pheasant that covers much of this. It’s physical ergonomics and is important when you’re designing a real object to be used in the workspace. Of course, it can apply to virtual objects too. Are they accessible by the colour blind? Are the buttons big enough for clumsy fingers… and so on and so on.

Anyway, as I stated earlier, my main purpose in hymning the joys of cardboard (and paper) were to try and get people to start thinking and expressing their design before they became engrossed in coding it.

Did it work? I think you know the answer to that, no, no and again no. But I did start reading a coursera course book. The course is Design: Creation of Artefacts in Society (so obviously I’d find that interesting) and the book is by the guy who produced the course Design: Creation of Artifacts in Society or go to: OR

I like design ideas. I doubt that I’ll actually do the course, but I have this sad weakness for education. New stuff to learn. Wow!, How much can I sign up for. Yay. And it’s free! I’m like a small child offered free sweets – keep stuffing them into all my pockets and my jumper until the scatter all over the floor and I eat so many I’m sick and have to lie down in a darkened room for a while.

But I do hope that I can get people to re-design their way of designing. Even a little bit. Even just to be clear about what they’re taking for granted and what question they’re asking.

Marketing, what marketing?

Someone asked me if there was a marketing department at this company, because they thought it was a bit implausible that there were that many engineers but no marketeers. Well, yes (you know who you are), but I’m not totally au fait with what they do.

Obviously I know about what they do: they redesign the website, they write blogs, they keep up a presence on twitter, they go to shows, they take out advertisements in appropriate places, they check whether it’s worth being in google AdWords, they buy lists of GPs, they talk to previous customers and so on and so on.

But I’m not sure what they actually do. Is this because I’m  incredibly lazy? Or incredibly uninterested? Or because the summaries that appear in the company newsletter are not terribly informative? Or because (whisper it) communication in this company is absolutely dreadful.

To be fair, communication in most companies is absolutely dreadful. People always thinks there are secrets going on behind their back. The urgent strategy planing meeting that had the head of marketing (Jeanette), Gavin and David in it and we never heard what decisions were made. This may, of course, be because no decisions were made, but I know that Jeanette was trying to get GandD to commit to what was going to be in the next product so she could splash out for ads in the Lancet…
And GandD wouldn’t bite.

Jeanette is one of those women who make me feel tired just to look at her. She’s slender and blonde and wears boots and looks amazing at all times. She can sell hot air to Parliament and bull terriers to babies. And she seems to be permanently on a motivational high. “Come on team, let’s see if we can get another ten orders by tonight” she’ll say, “Who’s with me?” And when she has a spare minute she’ll be running marathons for cystic fibrosis research or jetting off for a spa week on a Greek island to cheer up her sister-in-law.

Jeanette is busy seeing how we could alter the product so it would be suitable for care homes and private secure units. She’s looking at what regulation is coming out of the government about what these people will need and she reckons that there’s a huge untapped market.

And David agrees. There’s a whole lot of legislation that needs to be chewed down and flagged up, what your levels of staffing need to be, how many people you have on your books, where you can make things more or less efficient, how you rotate your on-call staff, how you can manage handovers effectively. We could integrate it with a little mobile note-taking system that doctors could carry with them when they go on call so they could…. And so it goes on. Questions of data security and encryption and touch screen infection issues….

And Gavin loves all that. He’s quite keen on encryption and security and new ways of setting it up. And can we get secured prescriptions sent directly to a chemist for an out of hours call… and so forth and so on. I don’t know the ins and outs of it. I would love to shadow a doctor or two and see what they actually did and what was really needed, but we don’t have time for that, says David, we know what they do, we know what they want, we just have to produce it. And if you developers weren’t so inefficient we’d have a product by now. Didn’t you estimate that it would be finished by September so we could test it in time for the New Year and it would be ready to go when people are spending their budgets left over from this tax year?

“Yes” says Ian, “But you’ve changed the spec four times since then.”

Why do I think it happens like that?

When you’re creating a new product, it’s like the band’s first album, or a first novel. You can put all your best work into it. All those hours of sitting in a back room, thinking of how it should work while you’re supposed to be doing something else. All those evening hanging out with your mates and discussing it (for a band) or those rich ideas that have bubbled up for years (for a novel).

Then comes the new release. It’s the follow-up; the second album that flops or the second novel that arrives with hype and leaves with its tail between its legs and an apologetic wet spot on the floor.
(Of course some of it is straightforward regression to the mean: great one time means more likely to be not so great the next.)

In both cases, you normally have a clue what it’s like when you make it, but it’s only when it’s bought that you really understand. People react to what you’ve done. And software is interesting, because it’s a tool. Users use it. They don’t just listen to it or read it. They want to make stuff happen with it. And what they want to do may or may not be what you think they want to do: or even what they think they want to do.

They find bugs. They find things that they want to do and can’t. And if you’re lucky they phone up the support desk or email in or write on forums so you can find out what their problems are.

So, in your second release you fix the bugs (obviously) and you add some of the features that youwanted to put in the first release but couldn’t, and you put in some of the features that you discover that users really want that you never thought about. And that is where it all starts to go horribly, horribly wrong.

Let us imagine our basic Dalek with exterminate facility. You have choices when working on the upgrade design:
a. add levitation to deal with the “cannot conquer a world containing steps” problem
b. assume that wheelchair access will become normal so that Daleks will learn how to campaign for it c. point out that Daleks were never designed to conquer the world, they were designed to be defeated, so use them in the way they were intended
d. redesign the sink plunger
e. offer people a re-badged helicopter that can carry Daleks

Gavin, obviously, wants to add levitation, because that is the correct solution and it has interesting coding challenges. David wants all the other things because they are fast and cheap and there is a massive mark-up on the helicopter. Nick would like to work on levitation because that is an interesting problem, but he designed the first sink plunger so he knows that he will be the sink plunger re-designer. Mr Grumpy and Jack are supposed to be fixing bugs. Both of them have a talent for introducing new bugs. This is because they don’t realise the side-effects of their fixes. Mr. Grumpy doesn’t always bother to find out how the code he is debugging is supposed to work, so he breaks other bits while getting the first bit to run smoothly. In Jack’s case it’s just because he writes it badly. Jiri has already started researching levitation techniques and has found an interesting paper that implies it can be done very efficiently if you can redesign the Dalek so it doesn’t require a sink plunger.

Ian tries to find out whether there is going to be levitation or not. He knows that Gavin and David are arguing about this and whichever one he meets in the corridor will tell him something different. He sits down and writes the spec as he understands it, so at least there is something for all the developers to do until the decision is made.

And I try and find out if users actually want levitation, or whether they really want to use the Daleks as pest controllers and would like a fumigation option.

How did I get into this anyway?

A quick summary of my trajectory into user experience:

  1. Write embedded programs to control freezers. Try and make them suitable for maintenance engineers to use: i.e, give clear info easily
  2. Describe programs and write manuals
  3. Become a full-time tech author
  4. Train and write training courses
  5. Become very aware of what users had problems with
  6. Work for software companies
  7. Realise that whenever I couldn’t describe something easily, that meant it was poor design
  8. Try and persuade engineers of this
  9. Do an MSc in Human Computer Interaction and Ergonomics in an attempt to convince engineers that I really did know what I was talking about
  10. Lie on floor and bite carpet.

No. Omit the last step. I have never lain on the floor and bitten the carpet. I have been tempted to, frequently. I have succumbed to offering engineers chocolate, looming over them, complimenting on their English skills and wearing fairy wings. But not carpet-mastication. Yet.

My current problem (the one that is making me consider taking a quick chew on the washable wool/acrylic shagpile) is how to get people to think about what a user does as opposed to what they do.

In fact, to understand that users are people too. I sometimes feel as if I’m trying to explain to a Daily Mail reader that there might be a reason why people are in debt that doesn’t involve feckless spending on alcohol, tobacco and Sky sports.

Yes, users are not interested in how wonderful and clever your product is. They don’t care. They just want to do their job and then do something that they find interesting (which may, of course, involve feckless spending on tobacco, alcohol and Sky sports). They may have to run their payroll while a patient is vomiting in the waiting room and two doctors are off sick and someone has forgotten they’re the on call doctor that day and their car has broken down and they’re thinking about their snowboarding holiday. They do not have a calm uninterrupted environment to set up the best possible way of doing it. They just want it done and out of the way as quickly and effectively as possible: in their terms, not ours.

OK.  Developers might agree with this, briefly, but they don’t have time to make it any simpler because they have to get a new release out. And they need the new release out because the sellers have to have something to sell so that we have money coming in which will ultimately pay for my tobacco, alcohol and Sky sports habit. And how does it get decided what’s in the new release?

It gets decided by David and Gavin, chatting about what they can do and what they think is cool and what they imagine people might want because one of them saw something like this last week on a website and thought that’s a good idea and our competitors are doing it anyway. If they were designing Daleks they’d have vampire teeth and a six pack because they’d heard Twilight was making a fortune. And they’d produce a full working prototype of a Dalek with vampire teeth and a six-pack. Not a wireframe or a sketch or even a mock-up. No, because it will be brilliant and they need it by Christmas so they can’t afford to waste time. And they’d get all the engineers to stop what they were doing to redesign the Dalek head set to fit in those vampire teeth. And to rewrite all the libraries to make them incorporate a blood-drinking ability. And then look at the results and say “That’s not what we wanted at all”.

At which point the temptation to fling myself to the floor and get a mouthful of tufts is quite high.