the medium is the massage

Someone asked a good question at work the other day. Why do we use quite one-the-nose headings on our web pages – even the pages selling something (which is most of them). Shouldn't these be the main selling point rather than the name of the thing? Or in marketing-speak, shouldn't they be value propositions? They also added that competitors often take this different approach.

It's one of those questions that, no matter how long you've been doing something, makes you stop and think jeepers, are we doing this right?

So I made some notes of the rationale behind our approach – which is not to say the other is wrong (although, tbh, I personally think it is.) In the spirit of low-effort blogging (busy!) I thought I'd share them here too.

Why we make our h1s nice and descriptive

The reason to have a descriptive main h1 heading is to be good web citizens who create accessible interweb.

The first job of an h1 is to let people – and search engines – understand what the page is about. If we wrote value propositions as the main headers of every page where we sell things, the site would be a confusing mess to navigate.

You also have to think about:

Search engine optimisation (annoyingly). I'm not one for the SEO arms race against search engines, but I'm all for better accessibility – value prop h1s can hurt your SEO.

The h1 vs. the meta title. Or in other words, what the page appears to be called off-site, for example in search results. Not that they can't differ, but if they're too different, you'll confuse visitors who arrived by search. (I've a hunch there are other implications I haven't thought of here too.)

The site nav. You don't have space to play with but where, again, you want some correlation between the nav text and page heading so as not to disorient visitors.

And, by the way, a lot of the rationale applies for subheadings too.

And in the case of our pages, we still have the main selling point in nice big text under each heading. It's hard to miss.

Finally, as competitors go, it's always wise to keep an eye on what competitors are up to, but not blindly copy what they do for the sake of it. Company websites tend to be “owned” by marketing teams, and many marketing teams do not have a good understanding of accessibility (and digital good practice generally). Or even just writing for humans.

These were the main points I came up with, but like any good imposter, I searched the web for validation. I expect to find only user-centred websites to back this up, so I was delighted to see a Semrush blog post along similar lines.

So there: another example of why taking a human approach to marketing – if we want to call it that – is important. Think of your audience. Be kind. Be interesting. Be useful. And don't relentlessly try to grasp for money. As tempting as it may be, you'll scare more people away than you'll interest.

a view of London south from King's Coss - old brick town houses and the like shrinking into the distance, high-rise, cranes and the London Eye on the horizon

Took a photo from a King's Cross rooftop.

Close-up of a chip butty cut into two, with fat chip-shop chips and soft white bread in evidence

There's really only one place to begin a world tour, and that's where you are already. In my case, that's the East Anglia bit of England.

So what better place to begin than the good old chip butty? Egg and cress? Coronation chicken? Cured ham and English mustard? Alright, there are many good traditional British sandwiches. As is to be expected for a food-stuff so well-established in these parts.

That said, sandwiches are far from uniquely British, as we'll see. In fact, that's very much the premise of this series of blog posts, should it turn into that. Although there's the famous story about the Earl of Sandwich, it's very much about the origin of the name, not the origin of putting meat, cheese and other things between two bits of bread (or one folded one).

Israel, the Netherlands and Spain all feature prominently in the history of bread-based portable food assemblages, and their popularity has spread far out of Europe, as I hope we shall also see. I say spread (pun regrettable). That's if analogues for the sandwich didn't arrive independently at one time of another on other continents – a very big if, it has to be said.

No – the chip butty is our starting point as an act of decadence. Decadence that isn't confined to the chip butty, but to any kind of potato put within bread. The crisp sandwich is, of course, another notable example. And I did once, long ago I'm keen to add, take it upon myself to try a mashed potato sandwich. Though I haven't since repeated the act, I have zero regrets. But the chip butty, for all its simplicity, sets the bar at the only level worth setting at: high.

To make a good chip butty, you must dispense with the idea of using home-cooked oven chips. Home-fried chips may be an option – if you're convinced that they're an acceptable substitute to chips procured from a high-quality fish and chips establishment.

Our route was to procure directly from the latter. Specifically, Oysters of Braintree – a traditional chippy with excellent chips that recall the taste of the very best from when you were a child.

Oysters also, note, has a sit-in restaurant and serves traditional chip-shop chicken – the kind that's not quite barbecue and not quite rotisserie, but its own peculiarly chip-shoppy invention. As much of a gift to the world as KFC and other deep-fried, breaded chicken is to the world, it should not have entered the domain of the fish and chip shop, imo.

However, we did't trust to chip-shop bread. That's no reflection of Oysters. If I have eaten bread from there, I don't remember. And though your typical chip-shop bread makes a serviceable chip butty, that would not do for these purposes. (Chip-shop bread, if you're unfamiliar, tends to be cheaper, shop-bought thin- or medium-sliced bread.)

Soft, white bread is best for a chip butty. We chose an M&S Soft White Farmhouse – an excellent loaf, and a good choice for sandwiches of all kinds. It has enough softness that the bread yields before the bite reaches the chips. A cheaper or firmer loaf, especially if not absolutely fresh, will often press into and squeeze out the chips, if only to a degree. This is best avoided.

Sauce, whether ketchup, brown or other, is forbidden. At least some salt is necessary, to taste. And vinegar (along with salt, the traditional chip-shop additive of choice) is optional. And though triangle-cut sandwiches have their place, chip butties should be rectangle-cut to avoid the egress of filling.

In no small part thanks to Oysters and M&S, this was an excellent sandwich. A firm 8/10 but we'll leave room to have our proverbial socks knocked off in future instalments.

Verdict: 7/10

One of the best bits of my job is helping people who want to write, but are a bit nervous about doing it. Thought I'd make a note some of kinds of things I share with people to encourage them to give writing or blogging a go. Some of these are responses to questions, which you can probably infer without too much bother. (Sorry, time is short!)

No need to be nervous! Although they're not always a bad thing. People who are a bit uncertain very often write the most interesting things in my experience!


I can support as much or as little is needed to get the post to where you're happy with it.


The beauty of blogging is there aren't really any rules. But shortish is never a bad thing, and this might be an opportunity to practice? But that said, sometimes interesting details can turn a good post into a great one, so maybe for this you could aim for high level, but dive into more detail in a few areas you think are most interesting?


No need to overthink it. If you find the words are flowing, trust that and go with it.


If the words get stuck a bit, I can help with that too.

And finally:

A story with a beginning, middle and end works really well, but don't sweat it if it doesn't pan out that way :)

So, you know: those sort of things.

East 23: Judy will be exhibiting three of her excellent prints at the East 23 exhibition. It's at the Bank Arts Centre in Eye, Suffolk. It runs 31 May to 22 July. If you're in the area, do go. It's a lovely venue. Coffee, cake, chairs – that sort of thing.

Running: 5K training is going well. I'm training for distance, not time, which is a great way to get back into it. 5K isn't far if you're a runner. It is if you're not. And though I ran a 10K race last year, it feels plenty far enough for the time being. I haven't got to the point where I'm enjoying it as much as I was last year, but getting there.

Book blurb: Wrote the blurb for the back of a book today. It was a surprisingly fun thing to write. I thought I was just going to pinch from the introduction and foreword. But actually, when I came to actually do that, nothing quite seemed to fit. Makes sense when you think about it, though. The reader need glancing at the back of a book is quite different from the introduction and foreword. To borrow arcade-game parlance, at the back of the book you're in attract mode. If you're reading a foreword or introduction, you've probably bought the book and want to know what to expect, if you read them at all.

Work blogging: I did an unusual thing. I wrote a post for the work blog. I'm ultimately responsible for the blog, but I don't run it, and we try to get as many people to write for it as possible. But not only did I write it, I drafted it in Wordpress and didn't bother to get anyone to review it because it was just links to stuff from the work #accessibility Slack channel. No preamble, just the kind of scrappy blogging I want to do much more of. If we show by doing, hopefully more people will do the same.

Garden progress: We've been doing a lot of summer prep in the garden this year. Projects include a big shade sail over the patio. We've had to dig holes to cement in a couple of posts to tie the garden-side to. We've dug away the raised earth which used to be a rockery and used it to level other areas, and fill in some holes dug by Stanley, our late whippet. It's taken us over a year to have the heart to do it. The resulting bed has flowers and shrubs planted. We've planted some rose bushes along the borders too. And scattered some seeds in the wild area of the garden, digging up patches in grassy areas.

Drone fun: Me and LT (daughter, 9) finally got round to playing with her drone she got for Christmas. It's one of those inexpensive toy ones, and perfectly safe to fly indoors. The batteries only last for 7 minutes of flight time, but it's enough for a bit of fun. We played a game where you have to take off, hover over a designated area, then land safely on an elevated bench. Surprisingly difficult, as it's light enough that the merest air current will drift it off-course. Even in a room with the doors and windows closed.

Gaming: I've been back into Destiny 2 lately. I glanced at the first part of an article by Keith Stuart in The Guardian. It's about Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, so I didn't read far in case of spoilers. (Judy's playing it first.) But he says: “For several years, I’ve been writing about how experiences such as Fortnite and Minecraft are no longer games to play but places to be.” And I think that's what keeps me coming back to Destiny 2. It may be very grind-y and the story is hopeless, but the world-building is fantastic, and it's fundamentally fun to play – especially in match-made coop modes. Think I'll stick with it – maybe even till I can get at Tears of the Kingdom, which I suspect will be months from now.

Side-bloggin': Lately I've been really enjoying posting to my side blogs. A few photos and scrappy haikus here; interesting, lovely and useful links there. These projects feel more like blog-friendly activities for introverts. I can see me getting to a place where I just use this blog for these recently updates and the occasional bit of long-form. Let's see.

Escape to meat space: That said, I'm seeing a lot of people I admire talking increasingly about getting off social media and, as much as possible, the internet generally. I still see the appeal. A remote island. A few dogs. A bit of painting. No screens. Sounds brilliant. Pretty sure I'd hate it after a week and half.

About an injured climber: Content warning: this contains audio of an emergency services call, but it's nothing harrowing or I wouldn't share it. Also: this is essentially an advert. But all that aside, I thought this was a good Instagram post from Giles Rhys Jones. I didn't initially get where it was going, which was daft really because Giles is CMO at what3words. Powerful bit of storytelling with a real-world use case, told from the point of view of the users.

Running still: It's been a couple of months since I took up running again after a … ahem … winter break. Enjoying. I've given myself permission to just potter about this time around. Apparently that's the way to build stamina and, if you do that, the speed will follow. But I just like having a little jog along on a sunny morning in the countryside – preferably before the traffic. Aiming to do a park run in June. How's that for a modest goal? Aiming to do a run already pitched as accessible to all abilities. Still something I need to gee myself up for.

Makin' a poster: At work I've been thinking a lot about posters. Not the inspirational/aspirational kind, though those are great. Something in more useful territory. Think more your World Cup wall chart. Actually: that's good – things you have to fill in. That's not what I've been doing but I might try to run with that. No, lately I've pinched a National Audit Office table (Figure 2 in this PDF – plus associated web page) about things that make government transformation – and particularly the CDDO's strategic missions – challenging to achieve. Then adding some columns to it with stuff you can actually usefully do to get through, over or around those challenges. That's the aim: anyway – something useful. We'll do our best.

Blogging well at work: I've been here a couple of years now and it's about time I got assertive with the work blog. It's hard to blog about client deliveries because of client sensitives – that's the received wisdom anyway. But it's so easy to anonymise if you have to, that's not really an excuse. I bet 90% of the time you won't actually write anything unpublishable anyway. As I whinged on LinkedIn today, you often get push back on blog posts because an idea “isn't enough” for a post. I think I'm going to stop suggesting blog posts and just do update chats with people instead. Then write the blog post. Or, ask a random team member 5 or 6 questions, blog the answers and publish week notes, but from a different team each week. A a nod to Giles' Blog post formats for teams. It's brilliant, but must admit the first time I saw it I felt a bit “I wish” about it. But no – it's on me to try harder. It's hard to build a blogging culture where it doesn't exist. And just because a company has a regularly updated “blog” that by no means it has a blogging culture. We've made great progress, but much more to do.

May days: A lovely thing about living a bit more rurally is you're reminded of what a brilliant month May is. There is so much green everywhere. The cow parsley is 8-foot high. Baby ducks. Baby deer. Bees. Wasp queens starting their nests. The coming and going of various blossoms. Suddenly-warm weather. Yes: May is brilliant. Much better than, say, November or August.

Not week notes: I love the idea of week notes. I admire people that write them. But they don't work for me. When it comes to the time of week I should be writing them, there always seems to be something more pressing to write. But I think it's useful to note down what's been going on, so I thought I'd try a looser format. Something I can get to when I can. It'll probably be less “what I've been up to” and more “things I've noticed” than your standard week notes, but that's OK. This is the first one.

Making plans: If you follow me on Masto you may have seen me carping about a tricky thing I had to write. To be frank, it didn't go brilliantly. I'd like to think because of things I couldn't control. But still, I've been looking back at what I could have done differently, and one of those things is sharing a plan, or an overview, rather than jumping straight into a first draft. Get down and agree the main topics to cover, then share a second iteration with bulleted talking points, and only then write the damn thing. It wouldn't have solved all the problems we ran into, but it would have helped. There you go: sometimes you overlook the oldest trick in the book, and one we were all taught at school.

Wisdom for life: I came across Mo's brilliant Life's Many Lessons. It inevitably made me wonder what lessons I'd write down. Not many came to mind. That makes me feel like this might be an important thing to have a go at. Surely I've learned a few things by now.

Working on a book: Did I mention I've been working on a book? Not so much lately, but in the months previous. It's essentially a re-write of a book about agile, but which was written in quite formal language. And not all of the advice made sense. The interesting thing was managing a finite amount of time, and the choices that brings with it. It's not the book I'd write on agile left to my own devices. I wouldn't be the best person to write on the topic. So it was a re-stating of the wisdom already in the book, with a few new insights thrown in. It would have benefited from much more outside input. Everyone's busy, and it's been a tough year generally speaking. But it's been really nice to put proper time into long-form. It will make it easier to write my own book one day, if I do. As Alex Horne says: big if.

It's still coronation weekend, and bank holiday Monday is when everyone in the UK has been encouraged to do some volunteering. The coronation might not be my thing, but I spent some time in the garden.

If nature is your thing, and you have some outdoor space, you can help out without leaving home. You don't need much space. Even if it's a patio with a few pots or even a window box, there's something you can do.

The RHS has a nice little guide on what plants support which bugs.

We've been trying to cultivate a nature-friendly garden for a few years now. We have some large pieces of rotting wood down for beetles. We let large areas grow wild, even allowing some nettles and brambles. We leave gaps for small animals to come and go at the end of the garden. Though, while we have at least one dog, we try to keep badgers out.

One thing that's been nice to see is our immediate neighbours growing wild areas too. We used to get a few disapproving looks and even the odd snarky comment. But there's increasing awareness a wild garden, or partly wild garden, is a good thing.

We've had a bird box up for a few years now. This year some blue tits have made it their home. For the past few days the parents have been coming with food for their young. So I made a little video.

I shot this with a Moment telephoto lens attachment for my iPhone. I attached it to the built-in 3x lens in my phone. And then, because I don't have a tripod yet, I propped my phone up against a small food compost caddy on top of our recycling bin, a few metres away from the bird box.

I shot it landscape and edited it down in iMovie for iOS, forgetting that iMovie doesn't like portrait video. I think there are work-around but I didn't bother this time around. Luckily I'd framed it so iMovie's square crop still covered all the action.

I edited it down to just the comings and goings, and then made some final edits in VSCO, including reducing the speed to 0.7x for a better look at the birds coming and going.

Hopefully a rather nice thing.

It's annual review time of year again. Over the years my perspective has changed. Once it was the under-appreciated individual contributor. Now it's under-appreciating manager. But one thing has stayed the same: I loathe this time of year.

I don't want to whinge. And I can't, really. I can't think of an objectively good way to do this. How to fairly “evaluate” people's “performance” – two words there that I find problematic.

I can't help observe that it's a shame that this is a time of year that:

  • makes people who do good work feel less good about their work than they should
  • holds people to arbitrary standards
  • makes you wonder if your manager is fighting your corner as hard (or as fairly) as other managers are
  • puts a number against your performance, as if it could ever be as simple as that
  • expects people to perform in a role or at a level other than the one they're paid to succeed at
  • seems to favour people with more time at hand
  • seems to favour people with certain personality traits

The process has made me rethink the value of blogging. (Or journalling, privately or in the open.) And particularly week notes. Keeping a record of what you've been working on strikes me as incredibly valuable come this time of year. Particularly when it's interesting or unusual things. Or in people team parlance, “going beyond goals”.

This might make it easier for people that don't spend their time strategising. Whether that's strategising their next appraisal, promotion or pay bump. a more even field of play for dipping into and grabbing the highlights they need to make a case for themselves.

Thought I'd share some Instagram accounts I really enjoy following. In many ways I'd love to get off Instagram, but it's a major presence of so many people I get a lot of joy from following so I have no immediate plans. Here are just a few of them:

  • bensirda // I totally get this isn't everyone's thing, but if heavily-processed black and white photography is up your street, there are some lovely examples here
  • theblackdog // “we make techno” is pretty good as one-line bios go – music artist account, and an artist I don't listen to as much as I'd like, but which I enjoy following nonetheless – strikes me as an artist account done right
  • coppernotes // Exquisite but unadulterared photography of Scotland's scenery by Fiona Reid
  • doug_chiang // Lovely concept art work from the Lucasfilm VP and Creative Exec – as close as you'll get to an active Ralph McQuarrie Insta account
  • hayakawakio // A designer's account, but for lovely photography taken in and around Tokyo and beyond
  • inkyprintsstudio // Judy is family, so of course I'm biased, but she has a lovely Insta account devoted to her print-making
  • leahj.72 // Lovely observations of the world around by, I infer, a practicing zen buddhist
  • // Beautiful mainly-urban photography from Mexico – possibly my favourite Instagram account – the stories put my posts to shame
  • markshallestate // If there's a nice park or public garden near you, look em up on Instagram and see if they're active and post nice things
  • miyuki_calligrapher // Zen calligraphy – just beautiful
  • mat_ranson // Design and photography – I don't understand it, but I know I like it
  • NASA // Some people's work makes it easier to do good Instagram, doesn't it?
  • nicolaturnerphotography // Lovely travel photography, but with none of the cheesy egotism as your stereotypical Instagrammers
  • ocramnartlof // Really striking abstract digital art – Marco was good enough to let me use one of his images for a music project
  • paradisecafe00 // If your local greasy spoon is on Insta, give them a follow – joy will ensue
  • retroscifiart // Not originial work, but as it's studiously-researched and immaculately-credited I'm very happy to recommend this oft-updated feed of retro sci-fi and adjacent artworks
  • rhayader_computers // Lovely little account run by a retro computing shop
  • rochester_zen__center // A lot of your Buddhist Instagram accounts just have cribbed Buddha pictures and (often trite) self-improvement quotes – Rochester Zen Center's takes a very different approach, with lovely pics from around their Sangha
  • strictlykev // Lovely account from the Ninja Tune musician, who is perhaps less well known for also being an excellent graphic designer – shares lovely things both made and seen
  • tinglow // Beautiful ink sketches
  • tofugom // Lovely understated urban photography – great seeing, and you never quite know what you'll see next
  • xtrazen // Extremely-laid back Instagramming from the introverted half of Coldcut – simple noticings, lovingly snapped

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