Swede vs. Swedish citizen

The Swedish flag

Today is National day of Sweden. In many places across the country, part of the celebration is a ceremonial welcome of new citizens. “New citizens”, “people who have become new citizens.” Now and then, however, you hear and read references to “new Swedes” being welcomed by their Swedish home municipalities.

“Swede” is more of a trait of ethnicity than that of citizenship. And there’s a clear distinction between the two. Citizenship is what you can choose. Ethnicity is what you’re born into. By choosing to associate myself with the country of Sweden and becoming a Swedish citizen, I cannot alter my ethnic origin.

Ethnicity has to do with belonging to a group (or several groups) of people of common descent, language, history, not necessarily bound by territorial constraints. Citizenship has to do with associating oneself with a group (or several groups) of people constituting a state, a country, united under a government and on a particular territory.

True story. I was born in Latvia to a Russian father and half Ukrainian, half Russian mother. Ethnically, I am Russian, but by citizenship, I associate myself with the country of Latvia. I do not call myself “Latvian”, which in my opinion signifies one’s cultural and linguistic upbringing, but rather “a Russian from Latvia”. Since late 2014, I hold double citizenship – of Sweden and Latvia. I will not start calling myself a Swede for the very same reason described above.

The word “nation” has the same roots as “nativity”. The Latin word nāscī means “to be born”. Naturally, nationality is closer to ethnicity than it is to citizenship (that is if my thoughts on the above two concepts which I am trying to explain in this post are correct). Nevertheless, “nationality” has gradually come to imply what country one is a citizen of, which is now the predominant connotation in the English language. In Russian, the word retains its original implication, which is why, when prompted, I sometimes take a second to realise what it is I am expected to state as my nationality.

Photo credit: The Swedish flag by Daniel Goude (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Seeing events, observing intentions

Pomegranate 6 by Kim McKelvey (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

On the window sill in our kitchen, there sat a bowl of pomegranates. I had carefully plucked each seed out of the fruit’s mushy pulp. (Now, I know there are other ways getting the desired part out that are less time-consuming, but I have my way and it works well.)

My four-and-a-half-year-old daughter saw the lid-covered bowl of pomegranate seeds and asked me if she could open it. “Go for it!” I said without a second thought as to her intention. She started to open the lid, and I watched her, as her delicate little fingers ran around the edges of the bowl. When she was done with the enterprise, I told her, “Good, now you can eat them, one by one!” To which she simply and quietly answered, “No.”

She started backing, clearly willing to leave for the living room, as if her mission were accomplished and she had a new endeavour awaiting. Startled, I asked her why she wouldn’t eat the pomegranate. “Daddy,” she answered unapologetically, “I never wanted to eat the seeds. I just wanted to open the bowl, so you could eat them.”

We often think we know what our customers want from us in form of products or services. Just as often, however, we fail to realise that what we think we heard them say is the necessary analysis of their needs on our part. We might have come a long way recognising the importance of basing our supply on the demand rooted in needs and not in desires. But is that enough?

During your user research (or rather user recognition, for lack of a better word), do you simply see them touching your product or do you wilfully look at them interacting with it? Do you deliberately yet passively watch your audience from afar or do you heedfully observe them?

When my daughter asked me if she could open the bowl of pomegranate seeds, I assumed her reason for doing it was to eat them. If only for a moment, my misconception about her intention left me startled.

How often do we assume our customers’ intent is A, just because they exhibit behaviour B? What we think we see our customers do, or sense them express, is an idea that, if grounded in inaccurate speculations and defective conclusions, can yield devastating results to our business.

The valuable, and sometimes vital, discipline of user research is best left to be served by a professional who consigns your audience to scrupulous analysis and not superficial description.

Fresh wounds and evanescent scars

When a cut is fresh, your perception of everything else is blunted by the acuteness of pain. In pain, your foremost need is that the cut be tended to, with care. Everything else is non-existent—your attention is focused on the immediate. Shallow cuts may do with a bandage, while deeper cuts require a more thorough treatment. The same is true of the wounds underneath, the cuts to the soul.

Grieving is a sign of life. It is a natural reaction to the loss of a part of you. It is the realisation that the cut was unnecessary. Losing someone you love is always a cut too deep to stop the bleeding alone. You need someone close to help you treat the wound. A host of neighbours.

When I lost my father to brain cancer 19 years ago, my world was shattered. He was the rock I stood on, and suddenly the ground shifted and my foundation was no more, leaving me hanging by a thread. The unforgettable moments I spent with my father during the first eleven years of my live could not compare to anything I have experienced since his passing.

Grieving is the realisation that the wound is going to leave a mark. Sometimes the scar is dim. Sometimes it is ready to burst at the minute impulse. But the pain fades. Reluctantly, it makes it easier to breathe, it makes room for a tearless start.

In grieving, we learn to adopt what has been taken from us. Peace, energy, joy. We learn to resolve to live a life worthy of the ones we lost, forming and shaping it into an eternal tribute. Because we know they would be blessed if we did.

Weeping with neighbours

My father died of cancer when I was 11, my siblings younger and my mother embarking on a heavy journey of raising three children on her own. So, I sometimes think that it is natural for me to complain about life being unfair.

I am aware that complaining about what life throws my way is pointless. However, I find myself worrying about futile things every now and again. Lacking substance, they aim to fill my mind and heart, crippling my senses and preventing me from living.

Then come cold and sharp reminders of the finiteness of life, which make me be grateful for what I have.

Rebecca Alison Meyer died of cancer on the 7th of June, the the day she turned 6. She was called Little Spark by her father Eric A. Meyer. He shared the troubles his family has been going through on his blog and Twitter.

I have never met Eric or Rebecca. We are strangers. And yet, during the past week, the world has not been weeping with strangers. We have all become neighbours, brought closer by this little spark. (In honour of Rebecca, many people used hashtag #663399Becca on Twitter and elsewhere, to show support to the Meyer family.)

When I see purple, I think of Rebecca. I do not think it is ever going to change. Purple was her favourite colour. For me, purple is Rebecca now.

Rest in peace, sweet child!

Throwing in the sponge

For the past three weeks, I’ve written 2,100 words for the #blogg100 challenge trying to repeat the feat of last year. I’ve even “tightened the rules” this time: one 100-word blog post a day—no shorter, no longer.

Both satisfied and with a heavy heart, I am throwing in the sponge. Hey, I’ve had my moment of happy (thank you, @beep!). But everyday blogging does not suit me after all. It’s not that I have nothing to say. It’s the regular commitment that I’m unable to maintain for now.

Instead, I will be focusing on longer, more thought-out occasional posts. Cheers!

This is the final post as part of the #blogg100 challenge—100 blog posts à 100 words in 100 days.

There should not be a need for justdelete.me

I get many e-mails from applications I’d signed up for and forgot about. If I don’t use a service regularly, I like to delete my account. Sometimes it’s easier said than done. Forth comes justdelete.me.

Justdelete.me is a directory of direct links to delete your account from web services.

Built by Robb Lewis and Ed Poole, it’s a handy directory of links to pages where you can delete your account from web services. Moreover, the tool provides colour codes to indicate the difficulty level of account deletion.

Justdelete.me shouldn’t exist. Deleting an account from web services shouldn’t be that big of an issue. Unfortunately, it is. And the popularity of the tool is undeniable.

This post is part of the #blogg100 challenge—100 blog posts à 100 words in 100 days.

Building a product the users’ way

Rattle by Daniel Goude (CC BY-NC 2.0)

So I did a quick test on my youngest daughter yesterday. I wanted to test her preference of hand to hold a toy rattle in. Left is wrong, I learned, and right is right—she’d switch hands every time I placed the toy in her “wrong” hand. After a while though, she got tired of the experiment and refused to take the toy at all.

Users will always try doing things their way, not yours. If you don’t heed their way, they will become disinterested, frustrated, or worse yet, hostile.

Place your product in users’ lap and observe. Act thenceforth accordingly.

This post is part of the #blogg100 challenge—100 blog posts à 100 words in 100 days.

All links should be blue

Blue links
Photo cropped. Original: Links. by C/N N/G (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The less effort it takes for users to recognise an element on a web site the better. If a button looks like a button, the users are more likely to associate it with something pushable and to actually push it. Right?

It’s only partially true. What users recognise, and subsequently take for granted, is patterns. All patterns are culturally fabricated. The target audience is the key to decisions on both aesthetics and functionality.

If users expect links to be blue, they’ll look for blue to click. Building on what rocks their boat is the surest way to get it right.

This post is part of the #blogg100 challenge—100 blog posts à 100 words in 100 days.

Be prepared for the unpredictable

Cold Shower
Cold Shower by Steve (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The other day, when my daughter and I were on our way to the kindergarten, she told me she didn’t want to play with one of the girls there. She was clearly upset about something. After lunch, as I picked her up, she told me she loved the girl. The same girl!

Your customers are like that. Their feelings are unpredictable, their actions are irrational, their mood is fluctuant. You may try to prepare a response to every situation. However, you must prepare for the sudden change as well.

The best response to this kind of situations is authentic empathy.

This post is part of the #blogg100 challenge—100 blog posts à 100 words in 100 days.

Perseverance against aspirations

Flower in the Stonewall, Wirksworth
Flower in the Stonewall, Wirksworth by David Masters (CC BY 2.0)

One warm August afternoon I arrived in Örebro with two huge suitcases and ambitions set on studying to become a teacher. Quickly realising that teaching was’t my cup of tea, I switched to Media and Communication Studies, which I never completed.

During the past 6.5 years, I’ve moved thrice, got married to the girl of my dreams, fathered two beautiful daughters and got a job I love.

My aspirations and plans for the future help me but move forward. The closer I get to the goal, the easier it is to make out the shape of it. And, in faith, persevere.

This post is part of the #blogg100 challenge—100 blog posts à 100 words in 100 days.