When In Doubt, Be Kind

Posted in all posts by coleman yee on December 30, 2012

I’ve been busier than ever since joining my current company 3 and a half years ago (which might help to explain my dismal average of less than posts per year on this in the past 2 years), and one of the things I’ve been learning more recently is in the area of leadership.

Leadership is not one of my natural talents, and in fact the idea of working with human beings used to be quite distasteful to me (the unpredictability and irrationality of humans unsettled me). This meant that being a leader of humans was naturally out of the question.

Fortunately, I work in an incredibly supportive environment with a wonderful CEO and really awesome colleagues, which makes it so much easier for me grow in my leadership. I’ve also been reading more and trying to put into practice what I’ve learnt about being a good leader. One of the quotes I’ve come across (I can’t remember where) is:

When in doubt, be kind. When not in doubt, be kind anyway.

It’s been on the back of my mind for months, and I’ve been meaning to put it into practice. Then recently, the opportunity came.

Our company was bidding for a contract that was practically already ours already. We were the incumbent, which in this case gave us a huge competitive advantage, and the client already had a great working relationship with us. Except that my colleague simply forgot to submit the bid. We lost that contract because of that.

Besides the pain of losing a major contract because of a very silly mistake, the client was very upset.

I wasn’t working directly with the colleague in question, but I could imagine my knee-jerk reaction – I’d probably be resisting the urge to blow my top, while sternly telling the perpetuator how unacceptable that was, and perhaps throw in some unsavoury consequences so that the lesson would be indelibly seared into the colleague’s neural pathways so that it would never happen again.

Not exactly a kind reaction.

Our CEO’s response, however, was quite different. There was no anger at all, and the CEO reminded us about the contributions of that colleague to the company. It reminded me of the quote I’ve been wanting to put into practice.

When in doubt, be kind.

When things go awry, it’s so easy to zoom in on that one negative incident and lose focus on everything else.

It may take a while before kindness becomes instinct , but I’m sure I can do a little better next time.

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Permanent Whiteboard Markers

Posted in all posts, design, user testing by coleman yee on January 8, 2011

We were having a brainstorm at a client’s meeting room when when someone made the classic mistake of writing on the whiteboard with a permanent marker.

That wouldn’t have happened if the permanent marker wasn’t put at the whiteboard, together with all the other (non-permanent) whiteboard markers. And that wouldn’t have happened if the permanent marker didn’t look like this:

In case you didn’t notice, the one above is the permanent marker; the one below is the (erasable) whiteboard marker.

Things like this make you wonder – what were they thinking?

(In case you’re wondering what I did to the permanent marker after taking the photo – I put it away outside the meeting room.)

On a related note… another thing that puzzles me, is how when someone writes on a whiteboard and finds that the marker is out of ink, they often just place the marker back where they got it from (and try their luck with another marker).

As for me, I dispose it ASAP.

No one else needs to waste time on that marker ever again.

TEDx Singapore Talk: The Princess, the Witch, and the PowerPoint

Posted in all posts, design, events, powerpoint, presentation by coleman yee on October 17, 2010

The talk I gave during TEDx Singapore 8 months ago is now online!

(YouTube link – The Princess, the Witch, and the PowerPoint)

The talk, entitled The Princess, the Witch, and the PowerPoint is a fairy tale illustrating some bad PowerPoint design practices. It’s really a minor revision of the version I gave 3 years ago.

Enjoy 🙂


A huge thank you to the TEDx Singapore folks, especially those who put in an incredible amount of effort producing and editing the video.

And all who attended my talk, who added their laughter and made it so much more fun for me to present it.

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The Psychology of Eating

Posted in all posts, books, presentation, psychology by coleman yee on October 9, 2010

The amount of food we eat is influenced by many things around us, and we don’t even know it.

If we use a bigger plate for instance, we’ll put more food on the plate (and end up eating more). Or if we were presented with more variety, we’ll also end up eating more. Or if you eat with more people (vs eating alone), you’ll also end up eating more (unless you’re already a heavy eater, then you’d end up eating less).

The great thing about all this is that this can also help you lose weight effortlessly, without needing much willpower. You can tweak your environment so that you’ll end up eating less, such as by using smaller plates or having less variety. And because the stomach is really a bad judge of how much we’ve eaten, if you just eat 20% less using these tricks, your stomach can’t even tell. You won’t feel deprived.

And over time, you’ll slowly but surely lose weight. Just by drinking one less can of Coke everyday for instance would make you 6kg lighter in a year. Just one less can of Coke.

That, in a gist was what my talk today at BarCamp Singapore 6 was about. I don’t intend to share my slides, partly because they’re in a mess, but more because the research findings I talked about is mostly from the book Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think by Dr Brian Wansink (Amazon affiliate link), and you should buy or borrow it for yourself.

Mindless Eating is one of those rare non-fiction books combine sound and accurate information with fascinating insights and are entertaining and easy to read. I first read it from a library, but it was so good that I had to own one for myself.

It’s filled with numerous experiments that give insight into things that affect how much we eat, and how we can manipulate our environment so we will cut down the amount we eat.

One last tip. If you’re eating stuff like chicken wings or other foods that leave behind some ‘residue’ (like bones or shells or sticks etc.), don’t let the waiter clear it – you’ll end up eating less with the ‘residue’ in sight.

Thanks to all who attended my talk!

*** Update ***

Designer/illustrator Bernadette Quah drew a lovely visualization of my key points while attending my talk:

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The Open Web

Posted in all posts, events, internet, presentation, web by coleman yee on December 20, 2009

I gave this presentation for the Mozilla Drumbeat Challenge at Neoteny Singapore Camp 1 about a week ago.

The presentation was for this:

Category 2. The Ultimate Open Web Presentation
We’re looking for the ultimate presentation that explains the open web and why it matters. You’ve got 5 minutes — describe the open web in a way that will excite and illuminate.

My presentation lasted less than 5 minutes, but it took me many hours to prepare – coming up with different ideas, weighing the different ideas, testing out ideas with different people, and finally sitting down and working on the slides.

I decided to take a somewhat poetic approach (someone called it an “ode”) to resonate with the emotions more than the intellect. It was a risk, since I would be presenting to a primarily geek audience. But I took it anyway.

And it paid off, since the judges liked it, and declared mine the “best presentation”.

Lucian Teo also did a really nice presentation on the Open Web.

The other category of talks (for concrete project ideas to make the web better) was won by Preetam Rai, who presented on a Hat-Tip System for Free Content.

A big thank you to those who gave me feedback on my ideas before they were fully formed, including Lucian and Preetam! Bernard Leong too, for encouraging me to present, and Mark Surman for organizing this. And finally my colleagues at Digital Boomerang for their support, including letting me present to them so I could record the audio for the slideshare presentation.

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Design Thinking and finding True Love

Posted in all posts, design, presentation by coleman yee on November 21, 2009

My second presentation at Barcamp today was entitled “Design Thinking and finding True Love”.

It was really just an introduction to Design Thinking, but I added the “finding true love” part just to make things a little more fun.

Here are the slides:

My slides don’t give very much information, so I hope to add in more explanation to this post another time. If there’s enough demand 😉

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For smart geeks: How to explain difficult concepts to lesser beings

Posted in all posts, education, learning, presentation, usability by coleman yee on November 21, 2009

I did a talk at Barcamp this morning entitled “For smart geeks: How to explain difficult concepts to lesser beings”.

It was quite well-received, and here are the promised slides.

As with my usual presentations, my slides don’t say very much, but if I get the time, I’ll add in more details to this post.

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3 levels of blogger engagement strategy

Posted in all posts, blogging by coleman yee on October 4, 2009

As part of their marketing and PR strategy, many companies and their PR agencies have been courting bloggers. The basic objective is essentially the same – more publicity for the company or product.

Level 1: what’s in it for us (the company)

Whether it’s more publicity hopefully leading to more sales, or just gaining community goodwill, it’s taken for granted that the company should have something to gain through the blogger engagement.

However, if the company is working on this level alone, it can never be effective in it’s blogger engagement strategy.

It has to move to the next level…

Level 2: what’s in it for the blogger

The savvier companies are strong in this mindset. They fully understand that the blogger must have something to gain before they will engage.

This could be an event with good food and drinks and great company (other interesting bloggers), it could be a product launch where the blogger gets to be the first to try out the product that they’re interested in, or it could be some competition where the blogger has a good chance of winning fabulous prizes.

If the company’s offer is sufficiently valuable to the blogger, then there’s a good chance that the blogger will blog about it.

If this seems a little risky (“what if the blogger doesn’t blog about it?”), you can always get the blogger to agree to blog…

Agreeing to blog

Advertorials or sponsored posts come under this category, where the blogger agrees to blog about the company/product for a payment. A good and reputable blogger will always disclose to their readers if a post is sponsored, so don’t bother asking bloggers to hide the fact.

Competitions or challenges also work, where blogging about the company/product is part of the competition, e.g. the funniest post on this brand of potato chips wins.

Of recent days, we’ve also seen competitions where the contestants are a few selected bloggers agree to take part in it. Examples include the Soyjoy GI Challenge and the Blogathon.

While many of these blogger engagement attempts have been quite interesting and successful, some bloggers, particularly the most reputable ones, tend to be resistant to anything that puts them in a position where they have to agree to blog.

To reach these bloggers, companies have to think about moving on to the next level…

Level 3: what’s in it for the blogger’s readers

What companies need to be thinking a lot harder about is how they can help the blogger give more value to their readers.

Popular bloggers understand implicitly that they must provide value to their readers every time they hit the “post” button – be it informational value (wow I didn’t know that!) or entertainment value (LOL!) etc. They’ve built up their large following only because of the value they’ve been giving to their readers.

Many successful blogger engagement activities actually do give bloggers the opportunity to bring value to their readers, but these are often incidental, e.g. inviting the blogger to an exclusive unveiling of a new phone – the readers benefit by being among the first to learn about the phone.

The easiest and most obvious way to benefit the bloggers’ readers is to give out gifts or prizes through the blogger. The Soyjoy GI Challenge and Blogathon (mentioned earlier) have components of this. The Soyjoy one, for instance, had a challenge where the blogger-contestants’ readers could ask for free Soyjoy bars to be delivered to their workplaces.

Another way is to make it easier for the blogger to blog about the company/product. I’m reminded of this Canon digital camera event for bloggers, where they gave every blogger an SD card to keep. The bloggers could freely test out the cameras, saving the photos they captured in those SD cards (see this short post by Claudia.sg “Finally Someone Got It!“).

I’m sure there are many other ways that companies can think of that will not only benefit themselves, the bloggers, but also the bloggers’ readers.

And that’s really why I’m writing this – I hope this will spur more companies into paying more attention to this aspect of blogger engagement. Do let me know if you have some ideas in this. The wilder the better 🙂

Special thanks to my deep-thinking colleagues at Digital Boomerang who gave me this idea.

Joining Digital Boomerang

Posted in all posts by coleman yee on July 4, 2009

I’ve recently joined Digital Boomerang (Singapore) as a Web Consultant. My name card says “Web Shaman” – I guess that’s the guy you go to when you have some web problems you can’t solve, and a bit of magic might help.

The company got onto my radar screen over 2 years ago, when they sent one of their new staff to Russ Weakley’s CSS Workshop, something very few small web companies would do. After a bit of further research, I put them on my mental possibly-good-web-company list.

My more recent research revealed that they’re not just a good web company.

Everyone I’ve spoken to who has dealt with them only had good things to say about them. Which is no surprise, because they really set out to make their clients love them. Some of their ex-clients even mentioned that they wouldn’t mind joining the company if they could.

Which is no surprise if you knew their culture and values.

We all know and probably have worked in companies that claim that “our people are our most important resource”, but few companies actually act like they really believe in it. As far as I can tell, Digital Boomerang truly believes in this and works hard at proving it.

I’m honored to be part of the Digital Boomerang gang. Hope to work some magic soon.

Accessibility on Singapore Government websites

Posted in accessibility, all posts, education, internet, policy, Singapore, web by coleman yee on June 30, 2009

The Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) has a reply on today’s Straits Times forum (“More accessibility soon for e-govt sites“) recognizing the need for more accessibility on government websites.

This is a small but positive development for me, as I’ve been advocating website accessibility for years, particularly for government websites.

What is website accessibility

For those who are not familiar with web accessibility, it’s simply about making a website accessible or usable or “viewable” by different web browsers and devices, and thus accessible by the widest possible audience, including those with disabilities.

For instance, an accessible website would be usable by a screen reader, a special software that reads aloud what’s on the screen and browser, thus enabling a blind person to access that website.

Website accessibility is thus often associated with making a website accessible to users with disabilities, particularly the blind.

Conversely, if a blind user cannot access certain information on a website using a screen reader, that website is considered not accessible.

Web accessibility is also about access by devices like mobile phone browsers, or even browsers other than Internet Explorer like Firefox, Safari, or Opera.

The accessibility of Singapore Government websites

When you surf around Singapore Government websites on a non-Internet Explorer browser, you sometimes encounter a message telling you that you can’t continue unless you’re using Internet Explorer.

That’s not an accessible website.

Whole populations of Singaporeans are being excluded from such online government services simply because they use a Mac instead of a PC, or because they don’t wish to use (the technically inferior) Internet Explorer.

And we’re not even talking about access by small screen devices like mobile phones, or access by disabled users. The situation is far worse for them.

There are a number of causes for the general lack of accessibility of Singapore Government websites, which I shall explore in the following sections.

People don’t know about web accessibility

The basic problem is that there’s simply a general lack of awareness of website accessibility, not just in the general population of web users, but among people who should know better. More on this below.

Singapore’s horrific web education

My use of “horrific” is not hyperbole. Almost all the web design courses I’ve encountered on web design has little or no coverage on web accessibility, even though it is one of the core issues in web development. It’s like studying to be a doctor without learning about the skeletal system, or learning to drive without learning the road signs.

Put simply, you’re not a competent web person if you don’t know web accessibility.

This situation began because we hired teachers who were not web competent in the first place. Guess what? Their students turn out incompetent too.

We now have a whole ecosystem of incompetent web people. But we don’t know it because nobody dies from an incompetent web developer, unlike doctors or drivers.

It’s not a Singapore Government-wide requirement

As mentioned in the forum reply, IDA introduced the Web interface standards (WIS) in 2004 for government wide implementation.

In the WIS (I’m quite familiar with it), IDA does recommend that government websites be accessible, but does not require it. In reality, these recommendations are usually ignored. Including those on web accessibility.

Government agencies don’t demand it

Almost all Singapore Government websites are built by external web vendors, not in-house by the government agency themselves. When a government agency wants a new website, they would lay down the specifications for the vendor to follow.

One of the usual specs would be to follow the WIS. But since accessibility isn’t a requirement in the WIS, the vendors generally don’t pay attention to it.

Of course, the agency can always make accessibility a requirement for their website. But that rarely happens. Largely due to the lack of awareness and poor web education.

Web vendors and developers don’t do it (well)

Even if a government agency does ask for their website to be accessible, many web vendors don’t do it properly.

Quite simply, many web developers in Singapore are simply not competent. While the horrific web education is to blame, the ultimate responsibility lies with the web developers themselves.

As web professionals, web developers should know that the field has moved on since they’ve finished school, so they need to keep themselves abreast of developments.

But most have not done so, resulting in incompetent web developers and vendors.

I’ve even seen vendors that claim to be able to make a website accessible, or even claim to specialize in it. Most of them don’t live up to their claims.

Unfortunately because of the widespread incompetence, most agencies aren’t able to properly evaluate the work of the vendors, so they don’t know how (in)accessible the sites really are.

The exceptions – competent web vendors and developers

There are exceptions, thankfully.

I’ve met many web developers who love their craft, keep themselves updated, and of course are completely competent. A good place to find them is through the Web Standards Group Singapore.

I’ve also encountered web vendors that are competent and believe in web accessibility. These are vendors that will make a website accessible for their client whether the client asks for it or not.

It’s just the right thing to do.

Moving forward

Unfortunately, exceptions are still exceptions. The average web vendor will not care about web accessibility unless they have to, since it’s a lot more effort for them given their incompetence. (However it’s not much more effort for the competent web professional.)

Government-wide web accessibility can only be achieved if it’s mandatory. Thus I hope that the next review of the WIS will make accessibility a requirement, not just a toothless recommendation.

From the non-committal tone of IDA’s forum reply, I’m pessimistic that this would happen, but I’d love to be proven wrong.

Accessible government websites are already a legal requirement in most developed countries for years. Singapore is way, way behind in this.

It’s time to boldly step forward.

* * *

Here’s a copy of IDA’s reply on the Straits Times forum, published June 30, 2009 Tuesday:

More accessibility soon for e-govt sites

I REFER to Ms Chia Woon Yee’s letter last Wednesday, ‘Ensure e-govt websites are disabled-friendly’.

Since 2004, the Government has introduced a set of Web interface standards (WIS) to make government websites easier to use and provide a more consistent experience of navigating across different government websites. Under the WIS, government agencies are required to adopt a set of mandatory standards and recommended guidelines for designing their websites and online services.

The guidelines include catering to the needs of the disabled by adopting World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 1.0). We recognise the importance of ensuring universal access and will review our WIS against the recently released WCAG 2.0.

We also note Ms Chia’s feedback on the e-government services website. We are in the midst of updating both the http://www.gov.sg and eCitizen portals. As part of the update, we will look into incorporating more Web accessibility features in these portals.

We thank Ms Chia for her feedback.

Ng Sook Fun (Ms)
Director, Corporate and Marketing Communication
Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore