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Gerry Gaffney (Live from FutureYou Sydney) ‘How forms reveal the true nature of an organisation’

John Carter
December 19, 2017
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Completed Episodes
December 19, 2017

Gerry Gaffney (Live from FutureYou Sydney) ‘How forms reveal the true nature of an organisation’

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Gerry Scullion: Hello and welcome to another episode of This is HCD. My name is Gerry Scullion and I am a human-centered design practitioner based in Sydney Australia. Before we jump in, however, as this podcast was recorded in Sydney CBD I’d like to acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora nation as the traditional custodians of the land where we meet today and pay respect to their elders both past and present.

This episode is a special one-off episode. We held a live breakfast in the beautiful offices of FutureYou in Sydney.

High amongst all the buildings at sunrise and in front of a sell-out audience, we raised over $800 dollars for Cara Care through ticket sales.

Our special guest in the morning was Gerry Gaffney co-author of the highly respected book ‘Forms that Work’. We discussed how forms reveal the true nature of an organisation with myself and co-host Adrienne Tan and Mark Catanzariti.

In this episode we take the time to peel back the layers and look uncover the true meaning and objectives of forms. We discuss, where forms are going and what we can do as practitioners to ensure that the organisations that we work for are delivering the best experiences for their customers.

In typical Gerry Gaffney’s style we had lots of laughs and had some great questions from the audiences at the end. For any of you seen Gerry speak at conferences around the world will know what such an amazing speaker he is, and here he was no different. I’d like to pay special thanks to Aisling Walsh at FutureYou who actually had to convince me that this was something we could make work. I also want to thank FutureYou for the covering the cost of the breakfast and were extremely hospitable on the day to everyone. I cannot speak highly enough of the guys at FutureYou, who are based in Sydney and Melbourne. They have roles in project management and UX and for more information please see the show notes or visit the website at

SO let’s jump straight in.

Gerry Scullion: Gerry very welcome to the This is HCD podcast.

Gerry Gaffney: Thanks for having me!

Gerry Scullion: Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into design?

Gerry Gaffney: You set 10 minutes for this bit right?

Gerry Scullion: No 2 minutes would be fantastic…!

Gerry Gaffney: Kind of by accident to be honest.


My background originally in electronic hardware and I did a lot of tech support type stuff and then moved from there to documentation training I realized I was trying to fix UI problems in the documentation and I still do that actually sometimes (but you know you’re not supposed to). And then fell from that really into user-centered design, heard about the field, went to a couple of conferences for people talking about UCD, hounded everyone I knew to try and get a job in that sort of area and I have been working in user-centered design UX ever since.

Gerry Scullion: when was this?

Gerry Gaffney: A long time ago.

Gerry Scullion: Non-specific?

Gerry Gaffney: A galaxy far far away.

Gerry Scullion: Fair enough. So today’s topic was ‘you can claim to be user centred and empathetic. Your marketing team can talk about how much you value your customers. You can say you design services for citizens. When people encounter your forms a real interaction occurs then your true nature is revealed’. So Gerry disclose the origins of this topic.

Gerry Gaffney: Well I think the thing you sent me said a hundred words and that’s 100 words.

No, but seriously I’ve worked on and off forms for many many years, actually I do not know how many years but a lot of years, I also fell into forms by chance and I will tell you how that happened. I was working with a Telstra at the time and they had a lot of forms that people were supposed to fill in for doing things like getting ISDN which is digital stuff that nobody uses anymore. And they wanted to do the usual or let’s put them online. I was looking at their original paper forms that were reams and reams of pages. As it turned out when I did some contextual enquiry and research nobody actually filled in it was done by internal staff within the organisation. Nobody realized that they thought that humans and field was fill in the [inaudible] and I was going through the form and I was thinking this really needs some design work, I didn’t have any expertise in forms, I had a fair amount of expertise in interaction and user-centered design. I thought somebody really needs to help these people produce better forms, so where is the book that I can go and buy that describes how to do it, and I ended up putting out a query and asked what book people would recommend to give to clients and Caroline Jarrett


contacted me and said what would be in such a book Gerry. And I went back to my suggested table of content and she said you want to collaborate on a book as she had already started one. I sort of fell into forms that way and initially for me it was just something it was a basic liking user interface but in the form of components of go where and how should it look and so on. But as I got deeper into it it really became obvious to me that the form is the conversation between an organisation whatever that organisation is and the people completely in that form. That is where the rubber hits the road that is, where your organisation surfaces, that is where you start asking people questions that are really none of your business but that is where you start establishing the trust with the person to get them to give you the sort of information that you are trying to collect. That is the background to that paragraph.

Gerry Scullion: Nice. Adrienne you have a question?

Adrienne: I guess for me forms are almost very integral to a product essentially. They are almost like the entry point into a product. So how do you design a form that is integral to that product because sometimes they kind of design separately in which case then you have a very separate journey and a very separate kind of experience.

Gerry Gaffney: I think you kind of hit the nail on the head when you say separately. The form should not be separate to the product. The form should not be separate to other parts of the interaction you are having with your customers or citizens or whoever you are talking to and that is a very common thing. I can remember one of the projects the organisation that Gerry and I met at and we were doing what was an IT project and somebody said we are redoing our communications and we said well actually that is within our area of interest and relevance. Oh but you are IT guys right and then we are doing redoing some forms but you are IT guys.

As seen as separate things you have got to service or assistant and then somebody gets the job of doing the forms and the person who gets the job of doing the forms is often not quite random but it maybe somebody who is like expert in ASP or expert in using a particular tool or is it strictly a graphic designer or as a communications person or is the person who is available to do it and it is not integrated and it really has to be integrated


and the form is an integral and central part of your organisation.

Adrienne: And I think that is key to this topic if the form integral to the product then how do you structure a team to create that holistic experience?

Gerry Gaffney: That is too deep for me. (laughs) How do you create a team to do it right I mean I guess it’s like any multidisciplinary activity or you need to have the people around who can see this thing holistically, who can see it as service and end to end system and process instead of support tools and working them as an entity. But it really is important because otherwise you get things like calling something one thing in your marketing communications and calling it something else in your application form and you know people like banks of struggle with this for years. One of the banks here call it CRN in some of their forms and then other places they are called the customer ID and it has to be integral and so I guess you do have to have a team that’s charged with and mandated and empowered with looking at all the aspects at the same time or as part of the whole.

Adrienne: I am trying to get deeper into this a little bit. So if I was going to create a new product and part of it has a form component in and it is brand new team, so who would you bring together on that team? When we talk about multidisciplinary teams, who is on that team? Where do they report to? Do they report to different people or reporting it to same line of management?

Gerry Gaffney: That’s much bigger conversation about just designing the form. How do we create a team to do anything that’s user centred? The form is just a little part of that on one level. It is about having a team that can work together that can do the user research, it can bring that research back into the organisation. Having a team that can understand the business and the business requirements and can do the design holistically. That is a much bigger question I think in many ways than who does the form design. I mean it really doesn’t need to be absolutely integratable whatever you are working on.

Gerry Scullion: So let’s just go back to the original topic Gerry and


let’s discuss what is a form? What really is a form to you?

Gerry Gaffney: That’s an interesting question. I think if you went back 100 years and you asked a set of people what is a form they would say it is a piece of paper you fill stuff in and that was it. Then we gradually moved where a lot of forms are online. Okay, then they said okay it is that same type of thing but we can do it online as well. and you say well we can do it over the phone as well, we can do mediated by him and mediated by machine or we can do a mediated or we can, in fact, have an AI fill in most of the form because they know who you are and then you do the other bits. So I think it is kind of more of the question what is it is a form in a survey I do not worry too much about it because I think we know what a form is at its broader sense and it is the tool that supports a conversation between an organisation and an individual usually. So something asks you a question to which you respond or you ask a question to which an organisation responds. I think it really has morphed a lot and it will continue to morph a lot more. So you know what people talk about forms and the appearance of forms for example that assumes we have got a particular modality that we are talking about on a screen or a piece of paper. I think increasingly we are going to be interacting with forms through other modalities and so I think it is one of those questions if you are working in forms design I think the skill sets that are needed are very similar and it really is about understanding users, understanding their needs, understanding how to establish a relationship and supporting the flow of the conversation.

So when we say a form is a conversation at its richest or an interaction at its least rich.

Gerry Scullion: Yes absolutely because I know for me personally whenever I have been encountered and asked to design forms I always try and bring it back to that real world interaction as if I was walking into a store. I do not expect them to say what age are you and what postcode are you from, I find that to be a little weird. So it is interesting to see that yes that is a similar kind of thought process that you do.


So moving forward to the next 12, 18, 24 months in form design obviously form bots and chatbots are going to become more and more prevalent. They are already here, but what are your thoughts on how form design and chatbots are going to amalgamate?

Gerry Gaffney: I do not know if they are going to amalgamate as such but I do see a lot of the functions the traditionally would be carried out by a form being carried out now by a chatbot and it’s very much the same as when the insurance companies started to have humans help you fill in your forms and now if you do something like have an accident at home or until something untoward happens to you, many companies will advertise the fact that you can get on the phone and you can interact with human instead of getting a form and filling it in either online or in paper and submitting it. And what those organisations are doing is that there’s a mediator in the interaction, they are becoming the form filler and that’s very much the same as a chatbot might do. You can talk to a chatbot and have it do it some of those things. I recently had a conversation with somebody I thought was a chatbot, but wasn’t and I tweeted the conversation and I screen grabbed it and tweeted it and then he tweeted his side of it, because he knows because I tagged whatever the company was on Twitter. So we had these two conversations going on, which is kind of weird but I think AI has become more intelligent and form filling is mediated. I think it would become more sophisticated. Also more dangerous I think in many ways for us because you know already we are being taken advantage of for it (bit harsh), oh not really. I think our information is being abused and misused and our data is being surreptitiously gathered and sold. You know quite obviously by the Ubers and Facebooks and so on and I think that you know as we provide more information automatically to chatbots and to agents and to various sorts, I think that will increase and might be a bit of a sidetrack.

Gerry Scullion: So what are your thoughts with regards and the presence of chatbots to support forms being completed? Is that a sign of a poorly designed form or is that something different?

Gerry Gaffney: I think it really depends on circumstances. One can envisage a situation where you’ve given permission for chatbot to be available or to have access you have


access to chatbot somewhere and you are trying to complete something and it facilitates that it could be useful interaction. You could also imagine it being intrusive. The chatbot is considered will very much be like Microsoft’s Mr. Clippy you know looks like you are writing a letter and looks like you are filling in a form, you know that gesture.

Gerry Scullion: As you were saying that Mr Clippy I know LinkedIn recently just enhanced that through integration to be brought over by Microsoft. When you are trying out your resume it is going to start querying, jobs that are applicable on the LinkedIn network. So effectively the sort of structural forms we have moved into the application world. So what are your thoughts on the movement into the application?

Gerry Gaffney: I think that’s been around for a long time where I guess you do not realise you are filling in a form if you are doing a resume. I know a few of the recruitment consultants have been doing that for some time where you submit a resume and then they will have something go out to pick keywords and put in their own format or put in their own database or whatever, it is kind of a no-brainer that it is a logical thing for organisations to want to do to say well let’s extract more of this information or some more of this information and structure it and put it in our database. And start to do whatever with it, linguistic matching and whatever is going on.

Gerry Scullion: Alright we are going to move the conversation to hypothetical scenario. Imagine there is a designer user centred designer of some sort and they enter into an organisation a large organisation that’s semi-mature in the design sense and they realise that there is hundreds of forms out there in the wild. How can they bring form design into consciousness of the organisation with the view to creating better forms in the future?

Gerry Gaffney: I think good forms are supported by good communications. I mean you can’t just have good forms, you can’t have an organisation that doesn’t communicate well with people that has good forms. So it has to be part of an overall journey I think where the form, not to harp on about this, but the form is just part of interaction and conversation. There are some mechanical things that you need to do.


You need to get sort of geeky about it and you need to do in order of all the forms and for every form find out who owns that form, who is responsible for what person or department or function owns that form. What information are you gathering. Why is it being gathered? What is it being used for? Is it actually being used? Are you duplicating some of that effort and look at it from a you know I guess a very analytical point of view. Another aspect of it is to say well if we have got hundreds of forms (God love us) which we usually do not do but if we do you know you are going to need some sort of consistency throughout at all those forms. You have to look at your branding and support the branding. It is just an overall design language and whatever that happens to be consistent navigational flow, it looks like consistency across multiple platforms, how does it look on paper, how does it look online, how does it look on mobile, how does it sound if you’re supporting voice and you’d have to embark on that journey but really you’d really have to be embarking on good communications in general so you are not going to get good forms if you haven’t got your communications in general working mode.

Adrienne: Can you expand on that because I am more interested I think in structure and how people behave and so a cheeky question, what is a bad form telling you about the organisational structure?

Gerry Gaffney: Well let me give you an example and example consisting of two examples and so if I pick two government agencies from Australia one of them is the jury’s commissioner. So when you get a notification that you may be required to serve on a jury there are number of things that may disqualify you or make you ineligible to be a juror. Things such as certain criminal records or being a member of the legal profession (or both?). And these things are factors that you just sort of take or you select online or whatever to say no I am not not that or yes I am that and it is a gate where it is fun where people won’t proceed. It is binary. But in Victoria what are the very first questions you might have even been the first question in terms of getting job roles that people had or their status was that ‘Are you the governor


of Victoria’ so everybody who got this were asked whether they were Governor of Victoria or not and because if you are the governor of Victoria you cannot be on the jury which probably is reasonable but anyway Paul Dore, the Jury’s commissioner said hang on a minute, do we really need to ask everyone that, let’s just delete that from the form and if the governor now happens to get the jury summons then she or he can say do I need to go to that and have one of their staff you know phone up and say what’s the story right. That to me was a sign of a really intelligent efficient forward looking customer centred organisation. From my knowledge of the way that organisation works it rings through. They actually do care about the people that are interacting with and they look they critique their own stuff, why are we doing this and how can we make things better?” So that’s one example. Another example is another organisation in Victoria Government organisation that I won’t name (because it is a bit sad) but they disperse funds under certain circumstances and they have a form that they send out to people to ask them to nominate their bank account details because in Australia nearly all transactions are electronic it is very rare to write out a cheque. So they ask you for your bank account details and you write in currently it is a 6 digit code followed by an account number and you have to fill that in in order to get paid by this organisation. But they require you to visit a branch of that bank and have a teller stamp or sign that form to say that yes that is a correct, valid bank account number. Now I actually queried this with the organisation, and I lost, and they ended up sending me a cheque but that is just so utterly patronising and that shows an organisation that genuinely doesn’t care but the people it is interacting with. You can envisage the conversation with the people doing this and some people give us the wrong information and then we try to pay that account and it is a problem and mostly it is a problem for us and it is a little bit of a problem for the person who wanted to get paid and didn’t. And


instead of trying to look at how can we make this better for everyone they have just gone down and that is totally patronising 19th Century pathway instead. So is that a good example?

Adrienne: Yes that’s a great example.

Gerry Gaffney: So those forms expose the nature of those two organisations fairly thoroughly.

Adrienne: It is really about how culturally how you consider customers in the way you place them in the organisation.

Gerry Gaffney: And whether you are willing to take the workload of your users or you’re quite happy to force it back on to them.

Adrienne: And unfortunately most people like to force it back onto them.

Gerry Gaffney: I think it’s changing because you know people don’t accept that sort of nonsense anymore. And they are much likely to kick up and complain. So I think there is a very strong drive. And you know when you look at government services there is a huge drive towards being customer centred because there is an awful lot of money involved and awful lot of money to be saved by delivering really good quality services particularly online and people do want to go to online forms and interact electronically, with all levels of government.

Gerry Scullion: So looking at form design in organisations and say maybe they do or maybe they don’t have user centred teams what kind of quantitative analytics would you look for to say that okay forms are working or not working?

Gerry Gaffney: There is a few basic things. I guess one of them is the number of errors on a form and a number of errors that you are dealing with and that is kind of easier on paper forms than it is online. But when you are doing a piece of forms design work if there is a paper form you go and you spend some time in the mail room watching the forms come in and go to wherever they put online and you know lot of organisations will say we have just got some data entry people you know converting it to online then you go and sit down to entry people and you think they are adding ‘value’ by interpreting the forms. I have seen you know temporary workers interpreting significant occupation health and safety forms without the organisation having any awareness that was going on at all. So look error rates. One particular instance, when a Dev guy said to me ‘you have got a problem in one of the questions in your form’ and I said ‘no I don’t’ (audience laughs). He said yes you do  


and because one of these things has got a higher dropout rate and I looked at it and it was right one of the questions were misleading or it was difficult to interpret. So I think looking at analytics and where people drop out of your form that is really good. But basically the type of people completing the task the form is supposed to support and are they doing successfully and how can you continuously improve that.

Gerry Scullion: So maybe you might be able to embellish a bit more on that because one of the things about form design is the errors are only really visible when they post it. So is there any methods that you know at their particular capture in real time that the users are having when they are entering in the forms?

Gerry Gaffney: It is on a mechanical level you can do certain validations like credit card validity and date validity and things like that.

Gerry Scullion: Time spent?

Gerry Gaffney: You could look at the amount of time being spent, time spent is an interesting one, there are some forms where some people will complete very quickly and you know the difference in task time is an interesting one I think. But you can look at how long it is taking people to complete where the stop points are.

Gerry Scullion: If you are looking at form design and someone is entering in their say address and they have to do it four or five times they eventually do what the form does and they move on, how do you capture that information?

Gerry Gaffney: That looks to me a usability question and that is a sure thing I would expect to show up in usability testing pretty early on. I guess maybe that is usability testing is something we should always do usability testing of forms and this is they go out there you are going to find oh God you know like we called it this and it made sense to everyone but like I have a very short story — so years ago I did some work with Privacy Victoria which is Privacy Commissioner in Victoria and they had a form they sent out to governmental organisations saying what precautions are you taking with citizens data when you use portable devices like USB sticks and so on? And so they sent out this survey and about a couple of weeks later they followed up and said if you do not answer the survey we are going to send the privacy commissioner on you and that is going to be really hard. So tell us what is going on. So when they rang the department of education in Victoria


whoever they spoke to they said yes we passed that on to building services. When I say building services why that because you used the word portable and in Victoria the word portable means one of those demountable cabins that they sometimes use as temporary — so like you know categorisation schemes never work right?

Gerry Scullion: Yes, absolutely.

Gerry Gaffney: We wouldn’t have found that in a pilot anyway we did in fact test that and even after testing and piloting odd ball things would have happened.

Gerry Scullion: That is a brilliant story. We are coming towards the end of the topic and question here before we move into the next question in the podcast. Can you give maybe like three tips that you give to organisations on what they can do to improve the hygiene of their forms?

Gerry Gaffney: Number one is an absolutely laser beam focus on the users. I mean what are users doing understanding what they need to do and doing that. Two is being consistent across all of your communications in making sure when you are interacting with the organisation on your mobile device it is exactly the same as if you are interacting on the phone or either way. And three….is two enough?

Gerry Scullion: Usability?

Gerry Gaffney: Well I said focus on the uses that implies usability testing and it implies piloting and it implies good visual design and it implies accessibility, all of those things. So yes user centred design and business centred designs are two things.

Gerry Scullion: We are going to pass over to Mark and you got the three questions from Hell.

Mark: I guess we ask every guest in the podcast three questions and we will ask questions before we go to everyone here. So what is the one professional skill you wish you were better at?

Gerry Gaffney: Listening.

Mark: That was easy.

Gerry Gaffney: Listening in the sense that I find I am not sufficiently focused on people and on details. So sometimes I come away from something and if I am with somebody else it is okay because I can say what did they say. But I think I am, yes, I would like to have that capability a bit more strongly.

Mark: If you were able to banish one thing from the industry, what would that be?

Adrienne: Not what you said this morning.

Gerry Gaffney: I said ‘people’ this morning.


When you say the industry do you mean the design community?

Mark: Yes.

Gerry Gaffney: Egocentric behaviour.

Mark: That’s a good answer.

Gerry Gaffney: It’s a popular one.

Mark: And what message would you give an emerging HCD talent for the future?

Gerry Gaffney: I think really if you want to be user centred designer really focusing on users, really focusing on people and how they behave is the key thing. I think as a profession we tend to get side tracked into gadgetry and we tend to get sidetracked into methods and we get sidetracked into thinking about things that are not central to what it is that we really need to think about. So I think looking at everything how is that helping me get a better understanding of users and how is that helping me prevail that understanding into something that’s ‘operationalisable’. To use a horrible word? It is something we can make something out of. How can we get that information and turn it into something. So I think that relentless focus on people and what they do. I always said when you are on the bus what are people doing you know and watching what people are doing is just observing behaviour and trying to infer what that might mean and draw conclusions from whether you can then test through your design work. So that’s kind of it. That focus. All the methods and all other things are important but they are peripheral and they follow on from that focus I think.

Mark: The core of it is, people and everything you do.

Gerry Gaffney: Yes.

Gerry Scullion: Okay. We are going to go to the audience.

Mark: Any questions?

Gerry Scullion: Yes we do. Vera Chan at the back of the room.

Vera: Thank you for that. The key point that I’d take this morning was about a form is being conversation with the organisation and I think that is really key and then it kind of moves on to good forms are good conversations. So I want you to drill into that. What do you mean by having good conversations? So sometimes forms can be very long, in terms of asking the questions like sort of like you know, how would you like blah blah blah or sometimes they are very short like name, date of birth etc.


So what is a good conversation and what are the things that you should look for in having a good conversation?

Gerry Gaffney: That is kind of one of those questions, thanks Vera, it is one of those questions that is really simple and really deep as well because what is a good conversation, lets take that away from forms altogether. What is a good conversation? It really depends on so many things. One of the things it depends on the interaction you are carrying out. So if I am doing a transaction and getting a coffee from coffee shop, a good conversation is polite, well intentional both sides and it is efficient because there are people waiting and people trying to get their work done. So it is interaction at a place which is pleasant, relaxed and stress free and gets the job done. You might want a conversation that is much deeper than that. so if you are dealing with medical practitioner for example and you are filling in a form prior of a medical practitioner than I want that conversation to be respectful at least ask me information that is appropriate for the interaction. So they can ask me sort of stuff that other people cannot ask, my coffee vendor cannot ask me if I have had any sexually transmitted diseases but maybe it is okay for the — that was a sidetrack(!!) — so maybe it is okay for my medical practitioner to ask that. There are times when it is appropriate to ask questions and there are times when you want questions that are worthy where you are actually conversational and you are contextualising it. I guess that comes to mind it is not a particularly brilliant example but there is some health monitoring app and it asks you for your gender and it says male and female are the only two options, then that is considered generally a very poor practice, but they say underneath it because our database of medical information will only support this particular thing. So they are saying we’d like to do better but we can’t because the database we are working with. So at least they have been respectful of you. They are saying we are giving you two choices which we realise are inadequate but the reason we are doing this is because we are unable at this point to give you another data, and once we do, we can do something about it. So that is a good conversation as well even though on the face of it is bad because it is asking you questions and got them wrong binary answer. It is contextualising it and explaining it in such a way that it is respecting me and acknowledging the fact that it has to make a faulty decision I guess.

Gerry Scullion: Johann it seems there is a question over here.


Johann: Thanks. So I work in the area of customer service and we also use a lot of forms I would say, and it’s all part of the conversations starter. So I was curious because it actually before on the AI and the impact it has so the latest is obviously we are looking for is giving the customer the answers already before they enter the form and there is tools now with AI and ticket deflection and you start typing in and the answer comes up. Is that the part of a good conversation or is this something the customer really wants? What is your experience and what do you think?

Gerry Gaffney: I think and I am not sure if I am getting the heart of the question, but my experience is that people are very happy to engage with machines. If the machine gives them the outcome that they want in the shortest amount of time possible. Some years ago people I think we are very reluctant to interact with machines. I remember when in fact Telstra brought in there voice recognition years and years ago, I want to talk to a human but the same token 80% of the incoming calls were diverted to a machine and answered appropriately for that person. I think now we are expecting a degree of machine mediation. So I think people are happy to interact with the machine or a human or a machine and a human provided they get the outcome they want and provided there is the hand offs are done well. I think handoffs and handovers is really the issue with a lot of customer service stuff. One thing people hate regardless of whether they are talking to a person or a machine is when you get that oh what’s your account number, I just told that to the previous person. Is that what you are talking about?

Johann: Absolutely, yes.

Gerry Gaffney: I think people in general are very happy to embrace technological solutions as long as they are taking them towards a pathway. What they do not like is technological solutions that are shit. Like when you talk to a machine and it takes you down a pathway and it abandons you and it argues at the wrong information or says stuff like you call this important to us.

Gerry Scullion: (please stay on the line) Any other questions? Alvaro?

Audience: What do you think is the future


of forms where there is no UI and you spoke about conversations with someone when we got into the future of zero UI and what is your perspective on that? Second question is we were working with an organisation in which they have behavioural insights department in which they try to nudge people to do certain things also I want to get your perspective on that when we don’t have an interface and we want to nudge people to do something, how do you do that?

Gerry Gaffney: Okay so two questions. The future of forms and interactions is that right, where is it going?

Alvaro: Yes, when there is no interface.

Gerry Gaffney: Well there is an interface always even if you imagine that when you are walking down the street your face is recognised and your iris is scanned and it takes a DNA sample and then puts that into a database. It is still an interface. It is one that you may not be aware of. I think you know hiding the UI in general is a good thing. The less we have to interact with the machine the better upto a point and I guess the point and this is an interesting one, what is the point of which we are happy to allow the machine to mediate what we are doing on our behalf. You know we are getting closer and closer to that and in many ways it is just fantastic, it is really handy and another way it is really scary but I think we do need to think about the zero visible interface future particularly with IOT stuff. You know in the future when you open the door to your house all your machines start saying my battery is flat, my battery is flat, it is everything talking to each other. Are we really going without the user interface or is it going to be there is not going to be user interface where everything falls over and we are going to deal with trying to find out where the problem is and so on. That is a very long winded answer secutous and it is not an answer to your question. But I think we are hiding the UI more and more and it comes back to being respectful of the people that you are having a conversation and an interaction with and how do you do that in a successful way? There are things we can infer that people probably are okay with. Would it be okay if I am walking down the street and I am limping and medical AI


I say it looks like you have got a problem with your leg or your hip and you need to have it replaced. I don’t know it infers things that might be half and it makes things happen on my behalf is that an appropriate form filling behaviour? I do not know. It is too big a question I think. The second one was?

Arturo: How do you nudge people…when there is no interface. Do you go through that same thought, just reflecting on that.

Gerry Gaffney: I guess the obvious was to know is to not ask the question and take action on the persons behalf. Traditionally not just stuff like having defaults that advantage theoretically the person filling in the form. So you know for your super innovation the default box is the one that gives you the best outcome 20 or 30 or 40 years time. When there is no interface how do you nudge? I guess by peripheral cues, make one thing look more attractive than the other. I do not know. The other thing is I guess is having opt outs, rather than opt ins. So I guess the organisation is fairly typical where if you don’t take any action in some countries then you are an organ donor which is sensible. If you take it to its logical extreme if you do not want to make, if there is no UI you kind of are implying you do not want to make a decision as an individual and therefore you are assigning that power to a third party. I do not have the answer. I knew it would be a hard question.

Gerry Scullion: Anyone else with any other questions. Niall has got a question.

Niall: My background in recruitment in Talent Management, for someone say who is coming out of college having studied technology or studied business, how would you recommend that they actually get into this sector?

Gerry Gaffney: You just are asking about user centred design in general?

Niall: Yes.

Gerry Gaffney: This is always problematic and this is something when I get a lot when I talk to students which I do from time to time is how do I actually get into this area. I do not have a magical answer for it. I think you know you can go to the meet ups the networking is such a huge thing. I always said the people read the books, get on the blogs, read the books, know what you are on, know your topic, be willing to work for an organisation that’s not the one that you want to work for,


be willing to work in a role that is not quite a role that you want. Take a role that is peripheral and just keep pushing in the direction to get into the area that you love. It is a very difficult question I think and I do not have anything even approaching a magic answer. One of the people that I meet quite often, who is very senior in the design community, I met many years ago when I she had done an almost volunteer piece of work with a recruitment organisation and got into user centred design that was started using  diary studies and some UCD things gradually moved to the field and that is something with a lot of drive and ambition and it varies per person I guess.

Gerry Scullion: Anyone else? Aman down the back?

Aman: So I got off an international flight recently and the customer form you fill is probably the same one I filled when I was about 15 or so, is there a point where forms don’t need to change? Is it perfection or is it like is it complacency or is there a reason why some things just don’t change?

Gerry Gaffney: That’s interesting. I do not believe there is perfection in this world. Perfection doesn’t exist but I think you can get something that works really well and you can say we have got it nailed and there is some problems that we are going to live with. By the same token I don’t believe there is anything that we couldn’t subject to continuous improvement usually by making it shorter. I do not believe there is a perfection and if you look at the marriage equality that was an interesting one recently. That was a very I can’t remember the question exactly, it was a fairly straightforward question with a yes/no box that was kind of that is as good as that is going to get. You couldn’t probably re-engineer that and further make it better given the politics of sending it as a survey instead of a vote, let’s not go there. But yes things like those forms are interesting because they are immutable and it seems like it has been exactly the same forever. I guess it is as good as it gets and they know they have got particular problems that probably work around them and they have got a captive audience who is sitting on a Plane


there what else are you going to do. Here is a form and let’s see if you can fill that in the dark.

Gerry Scullion:  They could give you a pen along with it and that is one thing that is user centred. (laughs)

Gerry Gaffney: But you will always have a pen with you, Gerry.

Gerry Scullion: I have got multiple pens. Alright, so any other questions before we wrap this up?

Gerry Gaffney: Do you know one thing we didn’t talk about?

Gerry Scullion: What?

Gerry Gaffney: Colours and fonts and stuff like that.

Gerry Scullion: We didn’t! But, unfortunately, we are out of time!

Gerry Gaffney: That’s good because they don’t actually matter so much but they often come up in such sort of sessions.

Gerry Scullion: But like you know we could speak about it. Alright, thank you so much, Gerry for being on the podcast.

Gerry Gaffney: Thanks guys for setting this up, that was great.

Gerry Scullion: Thanks to Future You for hosting us.

Gerry Scullion: So there you have it. I hope you enjoyed this episode and if you would like to be a part of the conversation or community hop on over to You can request to join the Slack channel and help shape the future episodes and connect with designers around the world. Thanks for listening and see you next time.


Thanks to Martin Vivian Pearse for photographing and videoing the event, and to Aisling Walsh and all at FutureYou for hosting and providing breakfast. $800 was raised for!

John Carter
Tech Vlogger & YouTuber

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